Home Sciences NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft loses compass in deep space

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft loses compass in deep space

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The historic ship, currently located in interstellar space more than 23,335 million kilometers from Earth, would be somewhat lost about its location: the data from the control system on board does not match its movements and orientation.

The ship Voyager 1, which was launched 45 years ago and left our Solar System to enter interstellar space in 2012, is emitting strange data that has scientists baffled. According to NASA specialists, an instrument on the spacecraft is sending randomly generated data that “does not reflect what is really happening on board.”

According to a press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the situation is normal at this stage of the Voyager mission. In addition, American scientists and engineers recalled that spacecraft have almost 45 years of activitya much longer time than initially anticipated by the mission planners.

the most distant object

Voyager 1 is currently more than 23.335 million km from Earth, reason why at this moment it is the most distant object to our planet created by the human being. In that context, light takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel the distance between the spacecraft and Earth: thus, sending a message and receiving a response takes about two days.

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For scientists, it is likely that this condition can influence the reception of information. However, it is noteworthy that the readings of the control and articulation system Voyager 1, called AACS for short, do not seem to match the movements and orientation of the spacecraft. This apparently suggests that the pioneer spacecraft was confused about its location in the cosmos.

A healthy AACS control system is essential for Voyager 1 to send data to NASA about the interstellar environment that surrounds it, as it keeps the ship’s antenna pointing directly at our planet. Despite conflicting data, the spacecraft’s antenna appears to be correctly aligned: receiving and executing commands from NASA and sending data back to Earth.

Possible solution in sight

Consequently, so far the system problem has not caused the spacecraft to enter “safe mode”, during which it carries out only essential operations to protect its own technical infrastructure. NASA technicians trust hardware and “backup” software that the mission owns, which has already made it possible to overcome other drawbacks, solve this problem too: in 2017, Voyager 1’s main thrusters showed signs of degradation, so engineers switched to another set of alternative thrusters, which responded with solvency despite being inactive for 37 years.

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Launched in 1977 together with its “twin”, Voyager 2, with the aim of exploring the outer planets of our Solar System, the spacecraft has made it possible to advance in a deeper understanding of the heliosphere, the diffuse barrier that the Sun creates around the planets that orbit it. The two ships are the only ones currently collecting data in interstellar space: the Voyager 2Meanwhile, it is currently positioned 19.5 billion kilometers from Earth and continues to operate normally.

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