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After transmitting conflicting signals from the Voyager 1 probe in May of this year, NASA finally located the source of the problem and was able to solve it (at least partially). A great feat knowing that the ship is currently over 23.5 billion kilometers from Earth. The pioneering probe transmitted conflicting data from the device, causing its long radio antenna to point towards Earth. This information, in particular, was pre-transmitted by a faulty on-board computer, leading to nonsense after it arrived on Earth. Ultimately, even after more than 45 years of activity, the space probe is still far from decommissioning and looks like it has many more years to go. It may finally cross the “last” boundary of the solar system, the Oort cloud, and still be able to make important discoveries.
Since May, Voyager 1 has been operating normally and continues to transmit data to Earth via its Attitude and Articulation Control System (AACS), ensuring that its antenna points to our planet. However, the information received seemed strangely contradictory.
According to NASA, the source of the problem may be a faulty on-board computer for years, which corrupted information and to which the AACS sent information for processing to be received on Earth. To solve this problem, the engineers simply reprogrammed the sensor to send data from a different on-board computer, a less risky solution.
Today, the ship no longer activates the back-up system (safe mode) and no longer detects anything abnormal. However, normally it shouldn’t have passed information to this faulty computer, because that would also mean there was a problem with the upstream commands. Thus, the device would receive an erroneous command from another faulty system.
Research teams are still trying to determine where this problem comes from. “We will completely reread the AACS memory and look at everything it has done,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager Project Manager at NASA Jet Propulsion in California. “This will help us diagnose the issue that caused the telemetry inconsistencies in the first place,” she adds.
Despite this unresolved updraft problem, scientists assure that the long-term health of the probe is not in danger, since normal telemetry has been restored. “We are cautiously optimistic, but we still have some research to do,” says Dodd.
On the way to the Oort cloud?
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is now almost 23.5 billion kilometers from Earth. Crossing the heliosphere, it has been officially in the interstellar medium for several years now. In particular, 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 discovery of a new type of electron explosion in 2020. This gives us an unprecedented look into truly uncharted territory,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. another press release.
However, you should know that the probe and its twin (Voyager 2) are still far from actually leaving the solar system. The ultimate boundary of our solar system is indeed beyond the outer edge of the Oort cloud, where the Sun no longer exerts its gravitational influence. It is estimated that this cloud of asteroids starts about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and extends to 100,000 AU. Thus, it would take 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 traveled far beyond their original destination, may have a slim chance of reaching the Oort cloud. They have indeed been remotely reprogrammed many times to be equipped with capabilities far beyond what they had during their launches. They were originally intended for missions lasting about five years, and their service life has increased almost tenfold. Future generations of scientists may be able to find a way to send them even further.