NASA: First private astronaut mission arrives at ISS

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The space agency has struggled to find an explanation for the seemingly “impossible” data readouts that were sent back from the probe’s orientation system. The Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, is the most distant probe sent by man into the vastness of space. It is currently flying through the edge of the solar system, operating in the “interstellar medium” beyond the Sun’s influence.

The agency’s engineering team are in the midst of uncovering a new mystery, after scientists observed abnormal data being sent from the probe.

NASA noted that while the spacecraft is receiving and executing commands from Earth successfully, the readouts sent from the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) do not reflect what is actually happening onboard Voyager 1.

The AACS is responsible for maintaining the Voyager’s orientation and keeping its antenna pointed precisely towards the Earth, ensuring that data can be sent from it to NASA.

According to a statement by NASA: “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.”

This issue has so far not triggered any onboard fault protection systems, which are designed to place the Voyager 1 in a state known as “safe mode”.

Under this mode, only probe only carries out essential operations, allowing engineers time to diagnose and then fix the issue.

NASA noted that Voyager 1’s signal hasn’t weakened, either, which suggests the high-gain antenna remains in its prescribed orientation with Earth.

The space agency added: “The team will continue to monitor the signal closely as they continue to determine whether the invalid data is coming directly from the AACS or another system involved in producing and sending telemetry data.

“Until the nature of the issue is better understood, the team cannot anticipate whether this might affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit science data.”

Given that the spacecraft is currently 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth, it will take roughly two days for scientists at NASA send a message to Voyager 1 and get a response – a delay the mission team is well accustomed to.

Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said: “A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission.

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“The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated.

“We’re also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before.

“So there are some big challenges for the engineering team.

“But I think if there’s a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it.”

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