Voyager 1 suffers glitch keeping it from transmitting data

NASA engineers are working to correct a new fault in one of the computers aboard the Voyager 1 deep space probe that is preventing the 76-year-old spacecraft from transmitting any scientific or engineering data back to Mission Control on Earth.

Launched in 1977 from the Kennedy Space Center, Voyager 1, along with its twin, Voyager 2, are the longest-serving active, non-passive spacecraft ever launched. Currently 15 billion miles (24 billion km) from Earth, Voyager 1’s still collecting scientific data as it hurdles out of the solar system on a one-way journey into interstellar space.

Unfortunately, it’s also showing its age as its systems continue to function decades beyond their design specifications and malfunctions crop up from time to time that NASA engineers, many of whom weren’t born when Voyager 1 was launched, need to sort out.

The most recent one is that the data that Voyager is gathering isn’t being sent back to Earth. Instead, it’s transmitting a repeating, meaningless, string of binary code, which is less than helpful. The rest of the spacecraft seems to be functioning normally, receiving and executing commands from Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena , California. It just isn’t sending back the scientific and engineering data.

According to the space agency, the problem is in one of Voyager’s three onboard computers known as the Flight Data System (FDS). This appears not to be communicating with Voyager’s Telemetry Modulation Unit (TMU). The upshot is that the data transmission is, in NASA’s words, “stuck.”

Mission Control has tried to restart the system in the hope that it would reset itself, but this has so far failed to achieve results, so other approaches are being explored. However, this would take weeks to accomplish because Voyager 1 is so far away that it takes 45 hours to get a response from the spacecraft to an Earth command.

Source: NASA

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