The team will continue to monitor the signal closely while continuing to determine if the invalid data is coming directly from the AACS or from another system involved in producing and sending telemetry data. Until the nature of the problem is better understood, the team cannot predict whether it could affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit scientific data.
Voyager 1 is currently 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth, and it takes light 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel that difference. That means it takes about two days to send a message to Voyager 1 and get a response – a time frame the mission team is well used to.
“A mystery like this is kind of normal at this point in the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The spacecraft are both nearly 45 years old, which is far beyond what mission planners had anticipated. We are also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment in which no spacecraft can ‘ve flown before. So there are big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there is a way to solve this problem with AACS, our team will find it.
It’s possible the team won’t find the source of the anomaly and instead adapt to it, Dodd said. If they find the source, they may be able to fix the problem by modifying the software or possibly by using one of the spacecraft’s redundant hardware systems.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Voyager team had relied on backup hardware: in 2017, Voyager 1’s main thrusters showed signs of degradation, so engineers switched to a different set of thrusters. which had originally been used during the spacecraft’s planetary encounters. These 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 function normally.
Launched in 1977, the two Voyagers have operated far longer than expected by mission planners and are the only spacecraft to collect data in interstellar space. The information they provide about this region has led to a better understanding of the heliosphere, the diffuse barrier that the Sun creates around the planets of our solar system.
Each spacecraft produces about 4 watts less electrical power per year, which limits the number of systems the craft can operate. The mission’s engineering team shut down various subsystems and heaters to reserve power for science instruments and critical systems. No science instruments have yet been shut down due to power depletion, and the Voyager team is working to keep both spacecraft operational and make science unique beyond 2025.
As engineers continue to work to solve the mystery Voyager 1 has presented to them, mission scientists will continue to make the most of data from the spacecraft’s unique vantage point.
Learn more about the mission
The Voyager spacecraft was built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are part of NASA’s Heliophysical System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information on the Voyager spacecraft, visit: