NASA fixes issue where Voyager 1 sent telemetry data via broken computer

The American space agency NASA has solved a problem with Voyager 1. NASA received useless status data because the probe unexpectedly sent the telemetry data via a broken internal computer. This has been fixed, but the cause remains unclear.

Earlier this year, the attitude articulation and control system, or AACS, responsible for the job of keeping the probe’s antenna pointed at Earth, began sending confusing information. The Voyager 1 probe seemed just fine as it continued to collect scientific data. NASA technicians found that the AACS was sending the data through an internal computer, even though this computer stopped working years ago. This led to corrupt data. The AACS has since been instructed to send the data via the correct computer and that has worked; the telemetry data is usable again.

Why this system proceeded to use the wrong computer is still unclear. Engineers believe this was due to an erroneous command issued by another computer on board the probe. If that turns out to be the cause, then there is a problem elsewhere in Voyager 1. NASA says to continue to look for the underlying cause, including by reading the AACS’s memory, but the organization does not expect this to pose a threat to the ‘health’ of the probe in the longer term.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 to be located both have been in interstellar space for some time, the region outside the heliosphere. That is the name for a protective area where the solar wind dominates, with particles and magnetic fields. In the outermost layer of the heliosphere, the solar wind is slowed down by the pressure of interstellar gas. Voyager 2 was able to celebrate its 45th birthday a week and a half ago; it was then exactly 45 years ago that this probe was launched. Voyager 1 was launched two weeks later and will thus be celebrating this anniversary in a few days.