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Puzzling telemetry from Voyager-1 suggests problem

Engineers are puzzling over strange operational data coming from Voyager-1, launched in 1977 and now in interstellar space more than 14 billion miles away, that suggests a technical problem but also makes no sense.

The engineering team with NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is trying to solve a mystery: The interstellar explorer is operating normally, receiving and executing commands from Earth, along with gathering and returning science data. But readouts from the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) don’t reflect what’s actually happening onboard.

The AACS controls the 45-year-old spacecraft’s orientation. Among other tasks, it keeps Voyager 1’s high-gain antenna pointed precisely at Earth, enabling it to send data home. All signs suggest the AACS is still working, but the telemetry data it’s returning is invalid. For instance, the data may appear to be randomly generated, or does not reflect any possible state the AACS could be in.

The issue hasn’t triggered any onboard fault protection systems, which are designed to put the spacecraft into “safe mode” – a state where only essential operations are carried out, giving engineers time to diagnose an issue. Voyager 1’s signal hasn’t weakened, either, which suggests the high-gain antenna remains in its prescribed orientation with Earth.

Figuring out what has happened is made more difficult by distance. It takes about 20 hours for signals to get from Voyager-1 to Earth, even at the speed of light. Thus, any attempted fix will arrive almost two days after it first occurred, at the soonest.

Both Voyager-1 and Voyager-2 are still operating, though at significantly reduced power. It is expected that sometime in the next few years their nuclear power sources will finally be unable to produce enough power to keep them functioning. If so, both spacecraft will have survived the maximum time predicted when launched.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

3 comments

  • Gealon

    It is puzzling. It’s been a long time since I last refreshed myself on the layout of Voyager’s computers, but I believe that there is a dedicated computer for the collection, formatting and transmission of telemetry. It is possible that neither the Articulation computer or the Communications computer are malfunctioning, but rather the connection between them has developed a defect, preventing the Communications computer from receiving correct data from the Articulation computer. Or possibly a memory fault in either of them which results in incorrect data.

    Hopefully though the answer is as simple as a few flipped bits.

  • Jeff Wright

    It hit the Flammarion Wall :-P

  • GaryMike

    My 98-year old Father is exhibiting the same kind of behavior.

    Communication difficulties limit prompt remediation efforts.

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