Voyager 1 space probe fully operational again, NASA confirms

Voyager 1 space probe fully operational again, NASA confirms
Voyager 1 space probe fully operational again, NASA confirms

JPL engineers perform another miracle of remote support, billions of miles from Earth

Space wonder: Voyager 1 has been sending astonishing data and photos from space to Earth for almost 50 years now, and its task is not finished. The probe was taken “offline” due to a computer problem a few months ago, but its remaining instruments are now collecting information again.

NASA recently said Voyager 1 had resumed “normal science operations” following the technical problem first discovered in November 2023. The probe still has four working instruments recording data on plasma waves, magnetic fields and particles for scientists here on Earth.

In 2023, Voyager 1 began sending an unnecessary series of ones and zeros instead of its usual “space reports,” leading NASA engineers to fear the worst. The source of the problem was ultimately identified as a faulty chip in the probe’s Flight Data Subsystem (FDS), one of Voyager 1’s three onboard computers designed to aggregate scientific and engineering data before send them back to Earth.

Voyager 1 has long left the solar system and its protective “bubble” known as the heliosphere, meaning NASA can’t send a repair mission to replace the malfunctioning chip anytime soon.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the California center that developed the twin Voyager spacecraft and many other space exploration programs, has devised a complex plan to bring Voyager 1 back online. The probe began resuming communications last April, assessing its status and giving the US space agency the extra time needed to repair it remotely.

JPL’s Voyager mission team executed the second stage of the repair plan on May 19, sending the probe the command to begin sending back science data. Two of the four working instruments immediately returned to normal operation, NASA said, while the other two required “additional work.”

As Voyager 1 surveys space again, the agency still has some additional minor work to do to clean up the effects of the faulty chip. JPL engineers will now need to resynchronize the “timing software” of the three onboard computers so that they can execute commands sent from Earth at exactly the same time.

Additionally, NASA will need to perform remote maintenance on the “digital tape recorder” aboard Voyager 1, which contains data collected by the plasma wave instrument before sending it to Earth every six months. Most of Voyager’s data is sent directly to our planet without being recorded first.

The achievements of the Voyager program, and Voyager 1 in particular, are nothing short of scientifically spectacular. Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977, with the Jupiter and Saturn systems as its primary mission targets. Nearly 50 years later, the space probe still operates more than 24.9 billion kilometers from Earth, and NASA plans to make its last contact with the probe by 2036. Voyager 2, meanwhile, is 12.4 billion kilometers away.

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