Paradoxical information: The Voyager 1 space probe has recently been sending strangely confused telemetry data to Earth – according to this, its alignment and attitude control must be defective. But the good radio connection and the smooth collection and sending of scientific data speaks against such a failure of the control system, as NASA reports. There were no error messages either. The engineers are puzzled.
The two Voyager probes are the most distant outposts of mankind – and a marvel of robust technology. The space probes launched 45 years ago are still working despite their advanced age and are collecting unique data from the outer edge of our solar system with their particle and radiation detectors. Both have now reached interstellar space, exploring regions never explored before. So that they can continue to do this for as long as possible, NASA has already initiated an energy saving program for the space oldies.
Confused data from attitude control system
Now, however, data from Voyager 1 is providing NASA with guesswork. Because the probe, which is around 23.3 billion kilometers away, sends strangely chaotic telemetry data to earth. At first glance, the information from the attitude control system (Attitude Articulation and Control System, AACS) indicates a failure of the system, but does not match the otherwise smooth functioning of the probe, as NASA reports.
Among other things, the attitude control system ensures that the powerful main antenna of the space probe is always pointed precisely at Earth so that communication can still function over this enormous distance. Voyager 1 sends its scientific data to Earth via this radio link, and the ground team uses it to send new commands and program supplements to the space probe.
Contradiction to the proper functioning of the probe
The strange thing, however, is that although the AACS sends nonsensical data, the probe works perfectly normally. She transmits the data from her scientific instruments and responds to earthly commands. The signal strength of the radio link is also high, so Voyager 1’s main antenna must still be pointing towards the earth. The AACS also did not cause any error messages and the onboard protection program did not start either, as NASA reports.
But then what is the problem? The Voyager ground team is currently investigating the possible cause of this phenomenon. The team estimates that Voyager 1’s attitude control system has yet to work correctly, but it’s unclear why it’s sending this messy and apparently randomly generated data. The engineers are now trying to determine whether this data comes directly from the AACS or whether another subsystem is responsible for it.
In an emergency, there is a backup system
“Such a mystery is almost expected at this stage of the Voyager mission,” says Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “After all, both space probes are now almost 45 years old and are therefore functioning well beyond the originally planned mission duration. They are also in interstellar space – a region of intense radiation where no human spacecraft has ever traveled before.”
However, the NASA engineer is confident that the problem can be solved with the AACS data. If it is not clear where the error is or if it cannot be fixed, you can switch to one of the reserve systems, explains Dodd. Because both Voyager probes are equipped with multiple redundant hardware that can step in as a replacement in the event of a defect or failure. Voyager 1 already benefited in 2017 when idle flight control thrusters were turned on to replace declining attitude control thrusters.
Because the scientific instruments on both Voyager probes have been working flawlessly so far and are collecting valuable data from interstellar space, NASA plans to keep the space probes in operation for as long as possible – well beyond 2025 in any case.
Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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