In the 1970s, two spacecraft were designed and built for the wildly ambitious mission to study the outer reaches of the solar system. More than 40 years later, the two Voyager spacecraft, quite unbelievably, continue to operate and transmit data, even as they leave the solar system behind and exit into interstellar space. The two trades have experienced various setbacks and problems, however a recent issue with Voyager 1 has engineers at NASA scratching their heads.
Voyager 1’s height articulation and control system (AACS) returns some strange readings, and engineers are confused as the ship continues to operate normally. The AACS is responsible for keeping Voyager in the right direction and ensuring that its antenna points to Earth so that the spacecraft can transmit data. But now, the AACS is returning data that makes no sense – the data seems to be mixed, for example, or suggests that the system is in an impossible state – even though the antenna is still pointing in the right direction. and delivers well.
The good news is that the spacecraft is still delivering, and the problem hasn’t forced the medium to go into safe mode. The signal continues to come as strong as before, so engineers are sure the antenna has not changed. But why the AACS is so misbehaving remains a mystery.
“Mystery like this is almost equal to the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said the project manager for both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, Suzanne Dodd of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in statement. “The spacecraft is both almost 45 years old, which is much more than what the planners anticipated. We are also in interstellar space – a high-radius environment that no spacecraft has ever flown before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think that if there is a way to solve this problem with the AACS, our team will find it. “
To try to find out what the problem is, the team will continue to monitor the messages sent by the spacecraft to see if the problem is with the AACS itself, or with one of the systems that transmits the data. But this will take some time, as Voyager 1 is so far away – 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth today – that it takes a long time for the signals to travel that distance. It currently takes almost two days to send a signal and receive a response.
The team may or may not be able to find out what is causing the problem, but for now they are glad that the spacecraft is still operational and that the AACS problem is an enigma but not an immediate threat to the ship’s well-being.