Forty-five years since its launch, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has been continuing its journey far beyond our solar system.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 exited our solar system in 12 years and entered interstellar space in 2012.
Despite its advanced age and 14.5-billion-mile distance (23.3 billion kilometres) from Earth, the probe continues to send back more scientific data as it pushes forward to uncover the vast unknowns of the galaxy.
However, new data sent by the Voyager 1 has perplexed the NASA engineers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
On Wednesday, NASA said that while the probe is still operating properly, readouts from its attitude articulation and control system (AACS) didn’t match the spacecraft’s movements and orientation, suggesting the craft is confused about its location in space.
The AACS is essential for Voyager as it ensures that the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna remains pointed at Earth so that can send data back to NASA.
“A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” Suzanne Dodd, a project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
“The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated,” NASA said, adding that Voyager 1’s twin, the Voyager 2 probe, is behaving normally.
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NASA said that Voyager 1’s AACS is sending randomly generated data that does not “reflect what’s actually happening onboard.”
Due to Voyager’s interstellar location, it takes light 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel one way, so the call and response of one message between NASA and Voyager takes two days.
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So far, NASA’s engineering team found that the spacecraft’s antenna was aligned — it is receiving and executing commands from NASA and sending data back to Earth—even if system data suggests otherwise.
“Until the nature of the issue is better understood, the team cannot anticipate whether this might affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit science data,” according to a NASA release.
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