Forty-five years after its launch, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft continues 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 miles (23.3 billion kilometers) distance from Earth, the probe continues to send back more scientific data as it moves forward to uncover the galaxy’s vast unknowns.
However, new data sent by Voyager 1 has puzzled NASA engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
On Wednesday, NASA said that while the probe was still functioning properly, readings from its articulation and attitude control system (AACS) did not match the movements and orientation of the spacecraft, which suggests the craft is confused as to its location in space.
AACS is essential for Voyager because it ensures that the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna remains pointed at Earth so that it can send data back to NASA.
“A mystery like this is somewhat normal at this point in the Voyager mission,” Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
“The spacecraft are both nearly 45 years old, which is far beyond what mission planners had anticipated,” NASA said, adding that Voyager 1’s sister spacecraft, Voyager 2 , behaved normally.
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NASA said Voyager 1’s AACS sends randomly generated data that “does not reflect what is actually happening on board.”
Due to Voyager’s interstellar location, it takes light 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel one way, so calling and replying a message between NASA and Voyager takes two days.
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So far, NASA’s engineering team has found that the spacecraft’s antenna is aligned – it receives and executes commands from NASA and sends data back to Earth – although system data suggests opposite.
“Until the nature of the problem is better understood, the team cannot predict whether this could affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit science data,” according to a NASA statement.
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