A critical system aboard the probe was sending garbled data about its status. Engineers have fixed the issue but are still seeking the root cause.
An issue affecting data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has been repaired by engineers. Earlier this year, the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS), which keeps Voyager 1’s antenna pointed at Earth, started sending jumbled information about its health and activities to mission controllers, even though it was otherwise operating normally. It also appeared that the rest of the probe was healthy as it continued to gather and return science data.
Since then, the team has located the source of the garbled information: The AACS had started sending the telemetry data through an onboard computer known to have malfunctioned years ago, and the computer corrupted the data.
Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager, said that when they suspected this was the issue, they decided to try a simple, low-risk solution: commanding the AACS to resume sending the data to the right computer.
Engineers don’t yet know why the AACS started routing telemetry data to the incorrect computer. They think it likely received a faulty command generated by another onboard computer. If that’s indeed the case, it would indicate there is still an issue somewhere else on the spacecraft. The team will continue searching for that underlying issue, but they don’t think it is a threat to the long-term health of Voyager 1.
“We’re happy to have the telemetry back,” said Dodd. “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 investigating to do.”
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have been exploring our solar system for 45 years. Both spacecraft are now in interstellar space, the region outside the heliopause, or the bubble of energetic particles and magnetic fields from the Sun.
More About the Mission
A division of Caltech in Pasadena, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) built and operates the Voyager spacecraft. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.