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StartScience NewsNASA’s Voyager 1 Spacecraft Thriller: Engineers Investigating Telemetry Knowledge

NASA’s Voyager 1 Spacecraft Thriller: Engineers Investigating Telemetry Knowledge

The engineering staff for NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is attempting to unravel a thriller: The interstellar explorer, which is presently over 14 billion miles from Earth, seems to be functioning usually, receiving and executing instructions from Earth, together with gathering and returning science knowledge. However readouts from the probe’s angle articulation and management system (AACS) don’t precisely replicate what’s truly occurring onboard.

The AACS controls the 45-year-old spacecraft’s orientation. Amongst different duties, it retains Voyager 1’s high-gain antenna pointed exactly at Earth, enabling it to ship knowledge dwelling. All indicators counsel the AACS continues to be working, however the telemetry knowledge it’s returning is invalid. As an illustration, the information could look like randomly generated, or doesn’t replicate any doable state the AACS might be in.

The difficulty hasn’t triggered any onboard fault safety programs, that are designed to place the spacecraft into “secure mode” – a state the place solely important operations are carried out, giving engineers time to diagnose a difficulty. Voyager 1’s sign hasn’t weakened, both, which suggests the high-gain antenna stays in its prescribed orientation with Earth.

Voyager in Deep Space

An artist idea depicting one in every of NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft. Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft will rejoice 45 years in August and September 2022. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The staff will proceed to watch the sign intently as they proceed to find out whether or not the invalid knowledge is coming instantly from the AACS or one other system concerned in producing and sending telemetry knowledge. Till the character of the problem is best understood, the staff can’t anticipate whether or not this would possibly have an effect on how lengthy the spacecraft can acquire and transmit science knowledge.

Voyager 1 is presently 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth, and it takes gentle 20 hours and 33 minutes to journey that distance. Meaning it takes roughly two days to ship a message to Voyager 1 and get a response – a delay the mission staff is properly accustomed to.

“A thriller like that is kind of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” mentioned Suzanne Dodd, venture supervisor for Voyager 1 and a couple of at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We’re also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there’s a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it.”

It’s possible the team may not find the source of the anomaly and will instead adapt to it, Dodd said. If they do find the source, they may be able to solve the issue through software changes or potentially by using one of the spacecraft’s redundant hardware systems.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Voyager team has relied on backup hardware: In 2017, Voyager 1’s primary thrusters showed signs of degradation, so engineers switched to another set of thrusters that had originally been used during the spacecraft’s planetary encounters. Those thrusters worked, despite having been unused for 37 years.

Voyager 1’s twin, Voyager 2 (currently 12.1 billion miles, or 19.5 billion kilometers, from Earth), continues to operate normally.

Launched in 1977, both Voyagers have operated far longer than mission planners expected, and are the only spacecraft to collect data in interstellar space. The information they provide from this region has helped drive a deeper understanding of the heliosphere, the diffuse barrier the Sun creates around the planets in our solar system.

Each spacecraft produces about 4 fewer watts of electrical power a year, limiting the number of systems the craft can run. The mission engineering team has switched off various subsystems and heaters in order to reserve power for science instruments and critical systems. No science instruments have been turned off yet as a result of the diminishing power, and the Voyager team is working to keep the two spacecraft operating and returning unique science beyond 2025.

While the engineers continue to work at solving the mystery that Voyager 1 has presented them, the mission’s scientists will continue to make the most of the data coming down from the spacecraft’s unique vantage point.

More About the Mission

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.


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