The Voyager 1 space probe has begun transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeros toward Earth, giving the impression of being “stuck.” Although the spacecraft continues to smoothly execute the instructions of NASA mission controllers, the scientific and engineering data it sends have lost its usefulness .
NASA experts have identified the problem in one of the three computers aboard Voyager 1, specifically in the flight data system (FDS). According to those responsible for the mission, the FDS is not establishing adequate communication with one of the probe’s subsystems, known as the telecommunications unit (TMU).
It is important to note that the primary function of the FDS is to consolidate readings from Voyager’s scientific instruments and health status into a single data package. For its part, the TMU is responsible for transmitting this data to Earth using a binary code signal. Recently, the TMU has started sending a repeating pattern of ones and zeros.
Notably, NASA initially attempted to reboot the flight data system (FDS) to restore it to its pre-problem state, but the Voyager 1 space probe continues to send data incoherently . Recognizing the complexity of the scenario due to the distance of the probe and the length of the mission, NASA estimates that it will take several weeks to design a new action plan .
The situation of the Voyager 1 space probe
Voyager 1 is currently in interstellar space, located more than 24 billion km away from Earth. There are notable challenges in communicating with the probe, as it takes 45 hours from the space agency sending a command to receiving a response. Additionally, complications are added when reviewing documentation written decades ago by engineers who did not anticipate the problems that would arise 50 years later.
Launched in 1977, the extraordinary Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes are the furthest human devices from Earth. They travel in opposite directions, but both have been in the outermost region of the solar system for years. This place is of great interest to scientists, as it escapes the influence of the solar wind and enters the regions of interstellar plasma.
Both probes have faced aging-related challenges, such as declining power of their radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) and deterioration of some systems. To manage these problems, they have been sent instructions to optimize energy use. In an incident mid-year, NASA temporarily lost contact with Voyager 2; However, by using commands to adjust the orientation of the antenna, communication was successfully reestablished.
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