Thursday, December 01, 2022

Engineers are working to fix a mysterious glitch on Voyager 1.

In May, NASA scientists said the Voyager 1 spacecraft was sending back inaccurate data from its attitude control system. The mysterious fault is still going on, according to the mission’s engineering team.

Now, to find a solution, engineers are digging through decades-old manuals.

Voyager 1, along with its twin Voyager 2, was launched in 1977 with a designed lifetime of five years to closely study Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and their respective moons.

After almost 45 years in space, both ships are still operational. In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to venture beyond the limit of our sun’s influence, known as the heliopause, and into interstellar space. It is now about 14.5 billion miles from Earth and is sending back data from beyond the solar system.

“Nobody thought it would last this long,” Suzanne Dodd, project manager for the Voyager mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Insider, adding, “And here we are.”

Unearthing Ancient Spaceship Documents

Voyager 1 was designed and built in the early 1970s, which complicated efforts to fix the spacecraft’s problems.

Although current Voyager engineers have some documentation, or means of command, the technical term for paperwork containing details about the spacecraft’s design and procedures, from those early days of the mission, they may have been lost or lost. Lost other important documents.

During the first 12 years of the Voyager mission, thousands of engineers worked on the project, according to Dodd.

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“When they retired in the 1970s and ’80s, there wasn’t a big push to have a library of project documents. People would take their boxes home to the garage,” Dodd added. On modern missions, NASA maintains stronger documentation records.

There are some boxes with documents and schematics stored outside the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Dodd and the rest of Voyager’s managers can request access to these records. Still, it can be a challenge.

“Getting that information requires you to find out who works in that area on the project,” Dodd said.

For Voyager 1’s latest glitch, mission engineers had to specifically look for boxes named after the engineers who helped design the attitude control system. “It’s a very time-consuming process,” Dodd said.

Error Source

The spacecraft’s attitude control system, which sends telemetry data to NASA, indicates Voyager 1’s orientation in space and keeps the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna pointed at Earth, allowing it to send data home.

“Telemetry data is basically a state of system health,” Dodd said. But the telemetry readings that the spacecraft’s manipulators get from the system are skewed, according to Dodd, meaning they don’t know if the attitude control system is working properly.

So far, Voyager engineers haven’t been able to find the root cause of the failure, mainly because they haven’t been able to reboot the system, Dodd said. Dodd and his team believe it is due to an aging part. “Not everything works forever, even in space,” he said.

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Voyager’s failure may also be influenced by its location in interstellar space. According to Dodd, data from the spacecraft suggests that high-energy charged particles are in interstellar space.

“It’s unlikely that one would hit the spacecraft, but if it did, it could cause more damage to the electronics,” Dodd said, adding: “We can’t identify that as the source of the anomaly, but it could be a factor.”

Despite the spacecraft’s orientation problems, it still receives and executes commands from Earth and its antenna is still pointed at us.

“We haven’t seen any degradation in signal strength,” Dodd said.

Voyager 1 journey continues

As part of an ongoing power management effort that has intensified in recent years, engineers have been turning off non-technical systems aboard the Voyager probes, such as the heaters on their science instruments, in the hope that they will continue to function. until 2030.

From the discovery of unknown moons and rings to the first direct evidence of the heliopause, the Voyager mission has helped scientists understand the cosmos.

“We want the mission to last as long as possible, because scientific data is so valuable,” Dodd said.

“It’s really remarkable that both spacecraft are still up and running fine, with minor glitches, but performing extremely well and still sending back this valuable data,” Dodd said, adding: “They’re still talking to us.”

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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