NASA’s Voyager 1 Probe in Interstellar Space Stopped Communicating with Earth Due to glitch

NASA recently lost communication contact with its Voyager 1 probe. Scientists reveal that the Interstellar spacecraft is unable to send any scientific system back to Earth because of a glitch.

The probe which has been drifting away from us since 1977 is still capable of receiving commands. However, the probe’s computers seem to be the major issues surrounding the recent communication issue. Voyager 1’s flight data system (FDS) usually collects onboard engineering information and data from the probe’s scientific instruments. 

NASA’s blog post on Dec. 12 revealed that this flight data system is no longer transmitting data as expected with the spacecraft’s telecommunications unit (TMU). While the FDS is still operating properly, it usually compiles the spacecraft’s information into a data package and transmits it back to Earth using the TMU.

However, NASA announced that the data package had been stuck during recent transmission attempts. NASA’s blog post said that the TMU kept on “transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeros.” Despite the recent challenge, NASA is confident of providing a solution to resolve the glitch.

Solutions Proposed By NASA to Resolve The Voyager 1 Probe Data Glitch

NASA revealed that its Voyager’s engineering team is already tracing the problem back to the FDS. However, the team could likely work for a couple of weeks before finding a possible solution. Once a solution is found, NASA will resume receiving more data from the Interstellar spacecraft.

Keep in mind that Voyager 1 and its twin probe Voyager 2 were launched in 1977. The two spacecraft have remained in operation for over 46 years now, making them the longest-active spacecraft in human history. Currently, both probes are exploring Interstellar space and traveling further into the universe with more than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) separating us from them. 

Voyager 1 probe and Voyager 2 are so distanced from Earth that it takes about a day (22.5 hours) to transmit data to the spacecraft. It also takes another day to receive any feedback from them. NASA reveals that a single back-and-forth communication with the Voyager 1 takes about 45 hours to go through.

Hence, when the voyager team repairs the probe’s FDS, they will have to wait until the next day to determine if their fix worked. The solutions that will be provided to the spacecraft will be more than just switching the system on and off again as the team has already tried that without a solution.

NASA said that the spacecraft’s age and hardware offer different challenges. This implies that engineers must work within the framework and technology of the 1970s. The process will surely involve some creative software updates.

Past Malfunctioning of the space probe

The Voyager 1 has suffered malfunctions in the past. In May 2022, NASA discovered challenges with the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS). The system transmitted nonsense telemetry data for several months before the engineers resolved the issue.

In October 2023, NASA scientists used a software patch to solve that challenge and stop residue from building up on the spacecraft’s thrusters. However, these types of updates take time.

“Finding solutions to challenges the probes encounter often entails consulting original, decades-old documents written by engineers who didn’t anticipate the issues that are arising today. As a result, it takes time for the team to understand how a new command will affect the spacecraft’s operations in order to avoid unintended consequences,” NASA’s blog explains.

Once the recent issue is resolved, the spacecraft will resume transmission of data as supposed.

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