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After transmitting inconsistent signals from the Voyager 1 spacecraft in May this year, NASA finally discovered the cause of the problem and was able to (at least partially) solve it. A major achievement considering the ship is currently more than 23.5 billion kilometers from Earth. The sapper probe had transmitted inconsistent data from the device to ensure its long radio antenna was pointed at Earth. This information was primarily pre-forwarded by a faulty on-board computer and generated nonsense when it arrived on Earth. After all, even after more than 45 years of operation, the spacecraft would still be far from retired and appears to have many more years ahead of it. It could eventually cross the Solar System’s “ultimate” boundary, the Oort Cloud, and still make important discoveries.
Since May, Voyager 1 has been operating normally and continues to send data back to Earth via its Attitude and Articulation Control System (AACS) to ensure its antenna is pointed at our planet. However, the information received seemed strangely contradictory.
According to NASA, the cause of the problem is an on-board computer that has been defective for years, which falsified the information and to which the AACS had sent the information to be processed for reception on earth. To solve the problem, the engineers then simply reprogrammed the probe to send the data from another on-board computer, a less risky solution.
Today, the ship no longer activates its backup system (safe mode) and no longer detects anything unusual. Normally, however, it shouldn’t have forwarded the information to this faulty computer, as that would mean there is a problem with upstream commands as well. So the device would have received an erroneous command from another defective system.
Research teams are still trying to figure out where this problem comes from. ” We’ll read AACS’ memoir in full and look at everything he did says Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion in California. ” This helps us diagnose the problem that caused the telemetry inconsistencies in the first place. “, she adds.
Despite this unresolved upstream issue, scientists assure that the probe’s long-term health is in no way compromised as normal telemetry has been restored. ” We’re cautiously optimistic, but we still need to do some research says Dodd.
On the way to the Oort cloud?
Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and is now almost 23.5 billion kilometers from Earth. By crossing the heliosphere, it has officially been in the interstellar medium for several years. Specifically, it crossed the line (heliopause) where the solar winds meet the cold and dense interstellar medium. Since then, the probe has provided valuable data on how the heliosphere interacts with interstellar winds.
This new area of research has led to important discoveries such as the detection of a new type of electron burst in 2020.” The fact that the Voyager probes are returning information about the limit of the Sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse into truly uncharted territory. ”, Underlines in another press release Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics department at NASA Headquarters.
However, you should know that the probe and its twin (Voyager 2) are far from actually leaving the solar system. The outermost limit of our solar system actually lies beyond the outer rim of the Oort cloud, where the sun no longer exerts its gravitational influence. It is estimated that this asteroid cloud begins about 1000 astronomical units (AU) from the sun and extends to 100,000 AU. So it would take the two probes almost 300 years to reach its inner edge and another 30,000 years to cross it.
The two probes, which have already exceeded all expectations and flown well beyond their original target, may have a slim chance of reaching the Oort Cloud. They have in fact been remotely reprogrammed many times to now be equipped with capacities far superior to those at the time of their launch. They were originally intended for use of around five years and have increased their service life almost tenfold. Future generations of scientists might find a way to push them even further.
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