The Voyager 1 space probe has sent out strange data that baffles engineers at NASA. The spacecraft was launched 45 years ago and has been outside the confines of our solar system for some time.
NASA said Wednesday that the spacecraft is still operating properly, but the Attitude and Control System (AACS) data does not appear to match the spacecraft’s movements and direction. This would indicate that the craft is confused about its position in space.
AACS is necessary for Voyager to send data about the interstellar environment to NASA. This system keeps the spacecraft’s antenna pointed directly at our planet.
“A mystery like this is fairly obvious at this point in the Voyager mission,” said Susan Dodd, Voyager 1 and 2 project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The spacecraft is approximately 45 years old and has been operating for much longer than mission planners expected.”
NASA says that, as far as engineers can tell, Voyager 1’s AACS system is sending randomly generated data that doesn’t “represent what’s actually happening on board.”
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But although the system data indicates otherwise, the spacecraft’s antenna appears to be properly aligned. It receives and executes orders from NASA and sends the data back to Earth. NASA said the system issue has not yet caused the aging spacecraft to enter safe mode, performing only basic operations.
“Until the nature of the problem is better known, the team cannot predict whether this could affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit scientific data,” NASA said. Dodd and her team hope to find out what’s driving Earth’s robotic envoy to send out the alien data.
“There are some big challenges for the technical team,” Dodd said. “The biggest problem is that light takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to reach Voyager’s current interstellar position. So the return message between the space agency and Voyager takes two days.”
But Dodd hopes: “I think if there’s a way to solve this problem with AACS, our team will find it.”
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