Engineers fix Voyager-1 as it travels outside Solar System in interstellar space


The Voyager-1 probe has been in interstellar space for over a decade after it crossed the heliosphere in 2012, the boundary where the sun’s impact comes to an end. The spacecraft raised alarm bells on Earth when the Attitude Articulation and Control System (AACS), which keeps the probe’s antenna pointed at Earth, began sending garbled information about its health.

After months of accessing and analysing the probe’s systems, engineers have now solved the issue affecting data from Voyager 1.

“The team has since located the source of the garbled information: The AACS had started sending the telemetry data through an onboard computer known to have stopped working years ago, and the computer corrupted the information,” Nasa said in an update.

After identifying the issue on the probe, which takes 21 hours 45 minutes 45 seconds to send, and the same amount of time to receive data from Earth, engineers tried a low-risk solution and commanded the AACS to resume sending the data to the right computer.

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Nasa said that while the engineers don’t yet know why the AACS started routing telemetry data to the incorrect computer, they speculate that it received a faulty command generated by another onboard computer. And if that’s the case, they suspect more problems to follow in the future as the spacecraft, which was built for five years in space, completes 45 years of operations.

The golden record launched with Voyager. (Photo: Nasa)

“We’re happy to have the telemetry back. We’ll do a full memory readout of the AACS and look at everything it’s been doing. That will help us try to diagnose the problem that caused the telemetry issue in the first place. So, we’re cautiously optimistic, but we still have more investigation to do,” Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager, said in a statement.

The Voyager twin probes — Voyager-1 and Voyager -2 — have both escaped our solar system and are exploring interstellar space. The twin probes were initially designed for a mission lifetime of just five years, which was then extended to 12, during which they explored the outer planets of the Solar System, beaming back unique images and data about the worlds that lie billions of kilometers away from us.

Also Read | Voyager-1 sends back strange signals from interstellar space

The probes are carrying a golden record containing images of life on Earth, diagrams of basic scientific principles, and audio that includes sounds from nature, greetings in multiple languages, and music.

Powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which contains plutonium, the probes are inching closer to the final days of operations. As the plutonium decays, the fuel pushing it ahead will decrease, forcing the spacecraft to either slow down or eventually end of life.

But, before that happens, the two probes remain at the cutting edge of space exploration.

Also Read | The Golden Record on Voyager has 115 images

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