Nasa engineers are trying to solve a mystery taking place on its Voyager 1 spacecraft.
The space probe is apparently sending signals that ‘don’t reflect what’s actually happening onboard’.
Nasa said that the interstellar explorer was operating normally otherwise, receiving and executing commands from Earth.
While the spacecraft continues to gather and send science data and otherwise operate as normal, the mission team is searching for the source of the issue.
The problem seems to be the Voyager 1’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) which controls the 45-year-old spacecraft’s orientation.
It’s what keeps the probe’s antenna pointed precisely at Earth, enabling it to send data home.
‘All signs suggest the AACS is still working, but the telemetry data it’s returning is invalid,’ said Nasa in a statement.
Engineers are baffled by Voyager’s seemingly randomly generated signals that do not reflect any possible state the AACS could be in.
In spite of the issue, Voyager 1’s signal hasn’t weakened, which suggests its antenna remains in its prescribed orientation with Earth.
Mysterious signals from space might seem sinister, but Nasa’s engineers don’t think it’s out of the ordinary.
‘A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,’ said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
‘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,’ she added.
Nasa’s 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.
‘It’s possible the team may not find the source of the anomaly and will instead adapt to it,’ sad Dodd.
If they do find the source, they may be able to solve the issue through software changes or potentially by using one of the spacecraft’s redundant hardware systems.
Whatever it is will take time as Voyager 1 is currently 23.3billion kilometers from the Earth, and it takes roughly two days to send a message to the probe and get a response.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and its twin have operated far longer than mission planners expected, and are the only spacecraft to collect data in interstellar space.