NASA’s super long-range fix restores Voyager 1 to about 15 billion miles: ScienceAlert
The Voyager 1 space probe launched from Earth in September 1977 and is now about 23.5 billion kilometers (or 14.6 billion miles) from home – and counting. But despite this breathtaking distance, NASA scientists have just carried out repair work on the craft.
Since May, Voyager 1 has been sending garbled information back from its Attitude and Articulation Control System (AACS), which is the part of the probe that makes sure its antenna is pointed at Earth.
Although the rest of the probe continued to behave normally, the information it sent back about its health and activities made no sense. Thanks to a change in the way data is returned from Voyager 1, the issue has now been resolved.
“We’re happy to have telemetry back,” says Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Scientists were able to figure out that the spacecraft had started transmitting data through an onboard computer that was known to have stopped working years ago. The NASA team ordered Voyager 1 to return to the correct computer for communications.
What we don’t know yet is why Voyager 1 decided to change the way it sent data back to its home planet. The most likely explanation is a faulty command generated from elsewhere on the probe electronics.
This in turn suggests that there is another problem elsewhere, otherwise the computer change would never have been made. However, the Voyager 1 team is confident that the long-term health of the spacecraft is not at risk.
“We’ll do a full AACS memoir read and look at everything he did,” Dodd says. “This will help us try to diagnose the issue that caused the telemetry issue in the first place.”
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 (which was actually launched a month earlier than its twin) have come so far in 45 years that they are now both beyond the point known as the heliopause, where the Sun’s solar winds can no longer be felt and where space is officially considered interstellar.
Although Voyager 1 has shut down some of its systems and lost some functionality during this time, and Voyager 2 also needs troubleshooting, both probes continue to report back to Earth – although a message can take around two days. to cover the required distance.
The spacecraft returned close images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, and in recent years have continued to record and analyze the weird and wonderful experiences they have in space.
Voyager 1 did not initiate its “safe mode” routine, suggesting it did not detect anything faulty, and the spacecraft’s signal did not weaken. All is well, it can continue to report for many years to come.
“We’re cautiously optimistic, but we still have more investigation to do,” Dodd says.
You can follow the progress of the probe on the Voyager Mission Status website.