Scientists are working to fix a mysterious malfunction in the Voyager 1 probe

(ORDO NEWS) — In May, NASA scientists said the Voyager 1 spacecraft was sending inaccurate data from its position control system. The mysterious failure is still ongoing, according to the mission’s engineering team.

Now, engineers are digging through decade-old manuals to find a solution.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 were launched in 1977 with an estimated lifetime of five years to study Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their respective moons up close.

After nearly 45 years in space, both spacecraft are still operational. In 2012, Voyager 1 became the very first human-made object to travel beyond the boundary of our Sun’s influence, known as the heliopause, into interstellar space. It is now about 14.5 billion miles from Earth and transmits data from outside the solar system.

Nobody thought it would last as long as it does now,” Suzanne Dodd, project manager for the Voyager mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Insider, adding, “And here we are.”

Disclosure of old spacecraft documents

Voyager 1 was designed and built in the early 1970s, making it difficult to troubleshoot spacecraft problems.

Although current Voyager engineers have some documentation – or command carriers, a technical term for papers containing detailed information about the spacecraft’s design and procedures – from those early days of the mission, other important documents may have been lost or misplaced.

During the first 12 years of the Voyager mission, thousands of engineers worked on the project, Dodd said.

“When they retired in the 70s and 80s, there wasn’t a big push to build a library of project documents. People took their boxes home to their garage,” Dodd added. In modern missions, NASA maintains a more thorough record of documentation.

JPL has several boxes of documents and diagrams stored off site, and Dodd and the rest of Voyager’s handlers can request access to these records. However, this may not be easy.

“To get that information, you need to find out who is working in that area of ​​the project,” says Dodd.

In the case of the latest Voyager 1 failure, mission engineers had to specifically look for boxes with the names of engineers who helped develop the position control system. “It’s a laborious process,” Dodd said.

Source of error

The spacecraft’s position control system, which sends telemetry data back to NASA, indicates Voyager 1’s attitude in space and keeps the high-gain antenna pointed at Earth, allowing the data to be transmitted back to Earth.

“Telemetry data is essentially the health of the system,” Dodd said. But according to Dodd, the telemetry data that the spacecraft’s arms receive from the system is garbled, meaning they don’t know if the position control system is working properly.

So far, Voyager engineers have not been able to find the root cause of the failure, largely because they failed to reboot the system, Dodd said. Dodd and her team believe this is due to the aging of the part. “Not everything works forever, even in space,” she said.

Voyager’s malfunction could also be affected by its location in interstellar space. According to Dodd, the data from the spacecraft indicate that there are high-energy charged particles in interstellar space.

“It’s unlikely that one of them hit the spacecraft, but if it did, it could cause more damage to the electronics,” Dodd said, adding, “We can’t call it the source of the anomaly, but it could be one of the factors.” “.

Despite problems with the orientation of the spacecraft, it still receives and executes commands from the Earth, and its antenna is still directed in our direction.

“We didn’t notice any degradation in signal strength,” Dodd said.

Voyager 1’s journey continues

As part of ongoing energy management work that has intensified in recent years, engineers are shutting down power to non-technical systems aboard the Voyager probes, such as heaters for scientific instruments, hoping to keep them operational until 2030.

From the discovery of unknown moons and rings to the first direct evidence for the existence of the heliopause, the Voyager mission has helped scientists understand the cosmos.

We want the mission to last as long as possible because scientific data is very valuable,” Dodd said.

“It’s really great that both spacecraft are still up and running well – with a few hiccups, but working very well and still sending valuable data,” Dodd said, adding, “They’re still talking to us.”


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