- The interstellar unmanned spacecraft that NASA has been using for 46 years has been sending meaningless and ridiculous data to Earth.
- According to NASA, Voyager 1’s flight data system (FDS) collects the spacecraft’s engineering information and data from its scientific instruments; however, it is not communicating with the spacecraft’s telecommunications unit (TMU) as expected.
- It was stated that packets transmitted to Earth have recently been “stuck” and “transmitting a repetitive pattern of ones and zeros”.
NASA’s Voyager 1 human spacecraft is currently unable to transmit any scientific and systems data to Earth. Although the 46-year-old spacecraft is able to receive commands, it appears to have some sort of problem with its computer.
NASA’s Blog post dated December 12 Voyager 1’s flight data system (FDS) collects the spacecraft’s engineering information and data from its scientific instruments; however, it is not communicating with the spacecraft’s telecommunications unit (TMU) as expected.
When FDS is working properly, it compiles the spacecraft’s information into a data packet. These packets are then transmitted to Earth using TMU. Recently, this data packet has been “stuck” and “transmitting a repetitive pattern of ones and zeros,” the blog post said. Voyager’s engineering team has traced the problem to the FDS, but it could be weeks before a solution is found.
Voyager 1 and its twin spacecraft, Voyager 2, were launched in 1977. Both have been in operation longer than any other spacecraft in history. Both are in interstellar space, traveling towards the universe at a speed 24 billion kilometers faster than Earth.
Because the spacecraft are so far from Earth, it takes almost a day (22.5 hours) for a message to reach the spacecraft. Getting any response will only take another day. A single back-and-forth communication with Voyager 1 is completed in approximately 45 hours. So when NASA engineers are able to send a fix for the spacecraft’s FDS, they will have to wait until the next day to find out if it works.
Even though it was done on and off, Voyager 1’s problem was not solved. The age and hardware of the spacecraft present a unique set of challenges. NASA technicians must work within the framework and technology that their predecessors had in the 1970s, which sometimes makes it difficult to produce creative software solutions.
This isn’t the first failure Voyager 1 has experienced in recent years. Problems with the spacecraft’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) were discovered in May 2022, and Voyager 1 continued to transmit meaningless telemetry data for several months before a workaround was found.
Another update was released in October 2023 with a software patch that will help resolve this issue once and for all and also prevent debris from accumulating on the spacecraft’s thrusters. NASA’s blog includes the following statement: “Finding solutions to the problems faced by spacecraft often requires consulting decades of original documents written by engineers who could not foresee the problems that arise today. As a result, it takes time for the team to understand how a new command will affect the spacecraft’s operations to avoid unintended consequences.”
Compiled by: Alp Eren Gümüş