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It’ll Be a ‘Miracle’ to Recover Glitching Voyager 1 Probe, Says NASA’s JPL

Humanity’s most distant spacecraft is failing (again) and engineers are having a hard time solving the problem. Voyager 1, what are we going to do with you?

The problem is with Voyager 1’s 46-year-old flight data system (FDS), one of its three onboard computers. The FDS collects data from Voyager’s scientific instruments and takes data on the overall health and status of the spacecraft. The system does not communicate properly with the telemetry modulation unit, which actually takes the data collected by the system and sends it to Earth.

This is just the latest in a series of communication problems with the aging Voyager 1, which launched in 1977, shortly after the twin Voyager 2 spacecraft. In May 2022, the probe suddenly began sending nonsense data on attitude articulation and control (AACS). Suzanne Dodd, project manager for the Voyager missions, described the problem as “normal at this stage.”

It turned out that the data was being transmitted by a faulty computer on the spacecraft, causing ground interpreters to read it as gibberish. Engineers solved the problem by sending telemetry through one of the spacecraft’s other computers. In the three months between when the problem arose and its resolution, Voyager 1 traveled 100,000,000 miles.

In December 2023, Voyager 1 resumed sending gibberish; The telemetry modulation unit began emitting a binary code that seemed to suggest it was stuck. The mission team believes the problem really lies with the FDS, where the data actually comes from. The Voyager team attempted to fix the problem by restarting the FDS, but failed. The gibberish persists.

“It would be the greatest miracle if we got him back. We certainly have not given up,” Dodd told Ars Technica. “There are other things we can try. But this is, by far, the most serious since I have been a project manager.”

Voyager 1 is 15.14 billion miles away and continues to move at just over 38,000 mph. Two months have passed and the problem remains unresolved.

“We can talk to the spacecraft and it can hear us, but it is a slow process given the spacecraft’s incredible distance from Earth,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. declared on Twitter. Each message sent to Voyager takes 22.5 hours to reach the probe and vice versa.

In any case, the Voyager missions are almost 50 years old. They served their original purpose decades ago, so every day we receive data from them is a bonus. When the two Voyager spacecraft finally shut down or give up on data collection, they’ll still be sailing (flying) into starry infinity, as intrepid a retirement project as any of us could dream of.

Further: NASA Power Hack Further Extends 45-Year Voyager 2 Mission

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