Traveller 1 — one of two spacecraft NASA launched in 1977 to study Jupiter, Saturn and their respective moons — sends confusing data back to Earth, according to to the space agency. The spacecraft’s control system regularly sends telemetry data back to NASA indicating its location. But Voyager 1’s engineering team was recently puzzled by the spacecraft’s displays, which contained garbled or inaccurate data. Even more intriguingly, the nearly 45-year-old probe is otherwise in good shape — its signal is still strong and the interference hasn’t triggered its safe mode. Voyager 2 (Voyager 1st sister probe) seems perfectly fine.
“A mystery like this is something of a given at this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for the Voyager program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The spacecraft are both nearly 45 years old, which is well beyond the mission planners’ expectations. We are also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment where no spacecraft has ever flown before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team.”
Communicating with Voyager 1 is easier said than done. Both probes are now farther from Earth than Pluto — Voyager 1 is a estimated 14.5 billion miles from our planet. According to NASA, after sending a message, it takes about two days to get a response from the spacecraft.
Dodd said that NASA may be able to solve the problem through software changes or possibly through one of the spacecraft’s redundant hardware systems. If not, the agency has to “adjust” to the glitch.
Anyway, NASA will do it lose contact with both drones in the next few years when they run out of energy supplies. Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 will be powered by plutonium-238, which decays over time. scientist estimate that by 2025 no probe will have enough plutonium-238 to function properly. Plutonium is in limited supply on Earth and is time-consuming and challenging to produce. For many years, Russia supplied NASA with plutonium-238 until the time came separated this agreement in 2015. Lucky for NASA, the US Department of Energy restarted domestic plutonium-238 production Oak Ridge Laboratoryenabling a number of current and future NASA missions – including NASA’s Perseverance rover.
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