What happens with Voyager 1? The future of NASA's interstellar spacecraft appears uncertain

Voyager 1 is the furthest human object ever from Earth. It is now more than 24 billion kilometers (15 billion miles) from our planet, flying through interstellar space. Since its launch in August 1977, the spacecraft has maintained contact with Earth, but over the past few months, that contact has become inconsequential. Are we about to lose the second-longest operating spacecraft in human history? We talked to NASA to find out.

NASA has been monitoring the problem since September when Voyager first began malfunctioning. While speaking to the Voyager team about the issue and its fixes, they told us they now have a better understanding of what the issue is, and they hope with this knowledge they can get Voyager 1 back into working order.

“In September 2023, a problem arose with data coming from Voyager 1. Normally sent in binary code, or a string of 0s and 1s representing words, the probe was instead sending only alternating 1s and 0s. Effectively, communication between the spacecraft and Earth was still connected, but Voyager's “voice” had been replaced by a monotone dial tone. NASA Voyager The engineering team explained to IFLScience.

“Due to this problem, scientists are not receiving any scientific data or updates about the probe’s health and condition, including information that might reveal the source of the problem. Through various indirect means, the team concluded that the problem is most likely related to the flight data system, which is one of the The rover's on-board computer. The team is working hard to solve the problem, but the process could take months.

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The Flight Data System (FDS) configures each Voyager 1 instrument and controls its operations, as well as collecting all data received by the spacecraft. It also formats it for transmission, so it's too bad we can't get it to work. . Attempts to resolve the bug have not been successful so far, but more complex attempts are expected in the coming weeks.

“The team has tried several 'simple' fixes, such as resetting the FDS to the state it was in before the issue started,” the team told IFLScience.

“This week the team will send more commands to the spacecraft to gather information about the status of the onboard systems. In the coming weeks, the team expects to begin making more aggressive attempts to reset various systems that may affect the FDS.”

Despite weight limitations at launch, both spacecraft had FDS systems, but Voyager 1's backup failed in 1981 (thankfully after it had passed Saturn). At the time, most people at NASA thought Voyager 1 had done its job because, unlike Voyager 2, it would not pass any other worlds.

Instead, the two rovers mapped the heliosphere, studied sources of ultraviolet radiation far from the Sun's interference, and studied magnetic fields far from the Sun. Two of Voyager 1's instruments malfunctioned, and five were turned off by ground control as “no longer a priority.” Four of them (one less than Voyager 2) are still in operation, or at least were before the FDS glitch. The magnetometer and cosmic ray system in particular have proven invaluable in the extended mission. They may still be collecting data, but they need an effective FDS service to return that information to us.

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“There is no FDS backup, so if the team can't fix this problem, it will likely be the end of Voyager 1's operations. However, Voyager 2 is nominally operational; the Voyager team said the Voyager mission will continue as long as one probe remains operational.” .

The situation is dangerous, but the team does not lose hope, and neither do we. Good luck to them as they work out how to bring our interstellar traveler back into clear contact with Earth.

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