NASA’s engineering team is investigating a mystery taking place on the Voyager 1 spacecraft.
Voyager 1 is the most distant man-made object in existence, having been launched 44 years ago. Currently, it is operating at the edge of the solar system, flying through the “interstellar medium” beyond the Sun’s influence.
However, scientists found that the spacecraft is successfully receiving and executing commands from Earth, but the probe’s AACS (attitude articulation and control system) readings do not reflect what is actually happening aboard Voyager 1. .
The system controls the orientation of the spacecraft by keeping its antenna pointed precisely at Earth so that data can be sent from it to NASA. While all indications suggest that the AACS is operating normally, the telemetry data it sends back appears to be randomly generated and does not reflect any possible state the system could be in.
Also, the problem hasn’t triggered any failover system that could put Voyager into safe mode, and the signal hasn’t weakened, suggesting that the antenna is still in its normal position, pointing toward Earth.
NASA says it will continue to monitor the situation as it’s possible another system could produce invalid data, but says it doesn’t understand why this is happening or how long this problem could continue. It takes about two days for a message from Earth to reach Voyager and get a response from the spacecraft.
“A mystery like this is normal at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“The spacecraft are nearly 45 years old, much older than mission planners anticipated. We are also in interstellar space, a high-radiation environment in which no spacecraft has flown before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there is a way to solve this problem with AACS, our team will find it.”
There is a possibility that NASA will not find the source of the problem and instead have to make software changes or use one of the spacecraft’s backup systems, something that was done before in 2017 when Voyager had to change their primary thrusters to secondary ones due to signs of degradation.