Engineers Are Consulting Voyager’s 45-12 months-Old Manuals to Fix a Glitch

Engineers Are Consulting Voyager’s 45-12 months-Old Manuals to Fix a Glitch
Engineers Are Consulting Voyager’s 45-12 months-Old Manuals to Fix a Glitch

In May, NASA experts said the Voyager 1 spacecraft was sending back again inaccurate facts from its altitude-manage procedure. The mysterious glitch is nevertheless ongoing, in accordance to the mission’s engineering group. Now, in get to come across a correct, engineers are digging by means of decades-aged manuals. 

Voyager 1, alongside with its twin Voyager 2, released in 1977 with a style and design lifetime of 5 decades to study Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and their respective moons up close. 

Following virtually 45 several years in space, both spacecraft are nonetheless working. In 2012, Voyager 1 turned the incredibly initially human-built item to enterprise further than the boundary of our sun’s influence, recognized as the heliopause, and into interstellar room. It truly is now all over 14.5 billion miles from Earth and sending facts back from past the solar procedure. 

“No person considered it would past as extensive as it has,” Suzanne Dodd, project supervisor for the Voyager mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, advised Insider, including, “And below we are.”

Voyager 1 was made and developed in the early 1970s, complicating initiatives to troubleshoot the spacecraft’s challenges.

Nevertheless latest Voyager engineers have some documentation — or command media, the specialized time period for the paperwork containing particulars on the spacecraft’s style and strategies — from all those early mission days, other vital documents may well have been lost or misplaced.

An engineer works on vibration acoustics and pyro shock testing for one of NASA's Voyager spacecraft on November 18, 1976.

An engineer will work on an instrument for 1 of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, on November 18, 1976.


During the 1st 12 a long time of the Voyager mission, thousands of engineers worked on the challenge, according to Dodd. “As they retired in the ’70s and ’80s, there was not a huge drive to have a task doc library. Persons would choose their boxes residence to their garage,” Dodd included. In modern day missions, NASA keeps much more robust data of documentation.

There are some packing containers with files and schematic stored off-internet site from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Dodd and the relaxation of Voyager’s handlers can ask for access to these records. Nevertheless, it can be a obstacle. “Getting that details demands you to figure out who operates in that location on the venture,” Dodd mentioned. 

For Voyager 1’s most recent glitch, mission engineers have had to particularly search for boxes beneath the identify of engineers who assisted layout the altitude-regulate process. “It can be a time consuming system,” Dodd mentioned. 

The spacecraft’s altitude-manage procedure, which sends telemetry info back again to NASA, suggests Voyager 1’s orientation in space and retains the spacecraft’s large-attain antenna pointed at Earth, enabling it to beam details residence.

“Telemetry knowledge is mainly a status on the overall health of the procedure,” Dodd stated. But the telemetry readouts the spacecraft’s handlers are having from the process are garbled, according to Dodd, which suggests they will not know if the altitude-manage method is performing correctly.

This archival photo shows an engineer working on the construction of a large, dish-shaped Voyager high-gain antenna. The picture was taken on July 9, 1976.

An engineer is effective on the construction of a substantial, dish-shaped Voyager higher-gain antenna, on July 9, 1976.


So much, Voyager engineers have not been equipped to come across a root trigger for the glitch, mostly mainly because they haven’t been ready to reset the program, Dodd mentioned. Dodd and her group believe it really is due to an ageing section. “Not every thing works for good, even in place,” she reported. 

Voyager’s glitch may possibly also be affected by its location in interstellar house. According to Dodd, the spacecraft’s data implies that significant-vitality charged particles are out in interstellar area. “It’s not likely for a person to strike the spacecraft, but if it had been to come about, it could result in far more damage to the electronics,” Dodd mentioned, adding, “We can not pinpoint that as the supply of the anomaly, but it could be a aspect.”

Despite the spacecraft’s orientation difficulties, it truly is nevertheless obtaining and executing commands from Earth and its antenna is still pointed toward us. “We have not observed any degradation in the sign strength,” Dodd claimed.

As part of an ongoing ability administration exertion that has ramped up in latest several years, engineers have been powering down non-technical devices on board the Voyager probes, like its science instruments heaters, hoping to maintain them going by means of 2030.

Saturn as seen by Voyager 1 as it looked back on Nov. 16, 1980, four days after the spacecraft flew past the planet.

Voyager 1 appeared again to Saturn on Nov 16, 1980 to give this one of a kind perspective of its rings.


From exploring unknown moons and rings to the first immediate evidence of the heliopause, the Voyager mission has served experts realize the cosmos. “We want the mission to final as extended as doable, for the reason that the science data is so pretty valuable,” Dodd mentioned. 

“It really is really exceptional that both of those spacecraft are however running and running well — tiny glitches, but operating really nicely and however sending again this valuable details,” Dodd said, including, “They’re nonetheless talking to us.”

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