Engineer consults 45 year old Voyager manual to fix bugs

In May, NASA scientists said the Voyager 1 spacecraft sent inaccurate data from it Altitude control system. The mysterious error still persists, according to the mission’s engineering team. Now, to find a solution, engineers are looking for decades-old clues.

Voyager 1, along with its twin Voyager 2, was launched in 1977 with a design age five years To study Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their moons carefully.

After nearly 45 years in space, the two spacecraft are still operational. In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to emerge beyond the limits of the Sun’s influence, known as the heliosphere, and into interstellar space. He’s around now 14.5 billion miles from Earth and transmit data from outside the solar system.

“Nobody thought it would last very long,” Susan Dodd, Voyager mission project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Insider. “And here we are.”

Voyager 1 was designed and built in the early 1970s, which complicates efforts to solve the spacecraft’s problems.

While Voyager engineers today have had several documents — or command media, the technical term for documents containing details about the design and procedures of a spacecraft — since the early mission days, other important documents may have been lost or misplaced.

An engineer works on the acoustic vibrations and thermal shock of one of NASA's Voyager spacecraft on November 18, 1976.

An engineer works on instruments for one of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, on November 18, 1976.


During the first 12 years of the Voyager mission, thousands of engineers worked on the project, according to Dodd. “When they retired in the 70s and 80s, there wasn’t much motivation to have a project document library. People take their boxes to their garages,” added Dodd. On a recent mission, NASA kept a more robust record of documentation.

There are boxes with documents and charts stored offsite from JPL, and Dodd and other Voyager wizards can request access to these records. Still, it can be a challenge. “Having this information requires you to know who is working in that project area,” says Dodd.

For the latest Voyager 1 fault, mission engineers had to specifically look for the box under the name of the engineer who helped design the altitude control system. “It’s a time-consuming process,” said Dodd.

The spacecraft’s altitude control system, which sends telemetry data to NASA, pinpoints Voyager 1’s direction in space and keeps the plane’s high-gain antenna pointed toward Earth, enabling it to send data home.

“Telemetry data is basically a case of system health,” says Dodd. But the telemetry readings that spacecraft operators get from the system are distorted, according to Dodd, meaning they don’t know if the altitude control system is working properly.

This archive photo shows an engineer building a large, high-power Voyager satellite dish.  The photo was taken on July 9, 1976.

An engineer builds a large, high-gain Voyager dish antenna, on July 9, 1976.


So far, Dodd said, Voyager engineers haven’t been able to find the root cause of the crash, mainly because they haven’t been able to reset the system. Dodd and his team believe this is due to aging of the parts. “Not everything works forever, even in space,” he said.

The Voyager fault can also be affected by its location in interstellar space. According to Dodd, the spacecraft’s data suggest that high-energy charged particles are present in interstellar space. “It’s unlikely any of them will hit the spacecraft, but if it did, it could cause more damage to the electronics,” said Dodd, adding, “We can’t pinpoint that as the source of the anomaly, but it could be a factor.”

Despite the spacecraft’s orientation issues, it still receives and executes commands from Earth and its antennas are still pointed at us. “We haven’t seen a drop in signal strength,” Dodd said.

part of Continuous power management voltage That has increased in recent years, with engineers shutting down non-technical systems aboard the Voyager sensors, such as its science instrument heaters, in hopes of keeping them up to 2030.

Saturn as seen by Voyager 1 when looking back on November 16, 1980, four days after the spacecraft flew over the planet.

Voyager 1 spotted Saturn on November 16, 1980 to give this unique perspective on its rings.


From the discovery of the unknown moon and rings to the first direct evidence of the heliosphere, Explorer mission Help scientists understand the universe. “We want this mission to last as long as possible, because scientific data is invaluable,” said Dodd.

“It’s amazing that both vehicles are still operating well — a few glitches, but they both work really well and still transmit invaluable data,” said Dodd.

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