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Hoping for miracles to happen in interstellar space

Hoping for miracles to happen in interstellar space

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There is a big concern about NASA's Voyager 1 space probe: it has been no longer sending data since November 2023. Experts have a doubt and a problem.

PASADENA — NASA's oldest space probe still active has not been operating properly since mid-November. Voyager 1 was launched into space in the summer of 1977 and has long since left the solar system behind. from interstellar space (Current distance to ground(about 24.3 billion kilometers), the probe is already sending important data to researchers at the US space agency NASA. But this has not been the case since December. It was said at the time that troubleshooting Voyager 1 could take several weeks.

Voyager 1
September 5, 1977, 12:56 PM (UTC)
More than 24 billion kilometers
22 hours and 35 minutes
4 out of 10

NASA is still working on a solution for the faulty Voyager 1 probe

In one Update to X (Formerly Twitter), NASA is now providing insight into the current state of the work: “Engineers are still working on the data issue on Voyager 1. We can talk to the rover and it can hear us, but that's a slow process given the rover's incredible distance from Earth.”

In fact, the enormous distance between Voyager 1 and Earth has a major impact on repair work: a signal from Earth currently takes 22 hours and 35 minutes to reach the space probe. A potential response from the probe could take a long time to reach researchers on Earth, which is a difficult situation.

NASA's Voyager project manager is hoping for a miracle

“It would be the biggest miracle if we got it back. We haven't given up yet,” explains Susan Dodd, Voyager project manager, in an interview. With the portal Ars Technica. “There are other things we can try,” she is confident. However, she then adds a phrase that makes you think: “But this is the most serious problem ever since I became a project manager.” Dodd has been in charge of the Voyager space probes at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) ever since. 2010.

The computer problem that has plagued NASA's probe for months is preventing Voyager 1 from sending data to Earth. Therefore, NASA does not receive any scientific or basic data about the space probe. Experts currently know nothing about the space probe's engine, power source or control systems. in December NASA announcedThe probe merely sends out “a repeating pattern of 1s and 0s, as if it were stuck.”

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is still alive, but not communicating

The probe is currently sending only a carrier tone to Earth, which indicates to the NASA team that the probe is still alive. Changes in this signal tell experts that Voyager 1 is receiving orders from Earth. “Unfortunately, we have not resolved the issue yet and have not recovered any telemetry data,” Dodd says.

Since November, researchers at NASA have been speculating about what might be wrong with Voyager 1. It appears that one of the three computers aboard Voyager 1, the Flight Data System (FDS), is not communicating properly with a subsystem called the Telemetry Modulation Unit (TMU). According to NASA, this means that the data was not sent to Earth. According to Dodd, the engineering team is now “99.9% certain” that the problem lies with the Defense and Security Forces. The most likely explanation seems to be memory corruption in the FDS.

Illustration: NASA's Voyager spacecraft in space. © Imago/Scientific Image Library

NASA's Voyager team faces a difficult task

However, the missing Voyager data makes the team's work more difficult. “It's likely sitting in FDS storage somewhere. A few have been altered or damaged. “But without telemetry, we can't tell where the FDS memory is damaged,” the project manager explains. As for other parts that showed signs of wear over time or No longer operational, NASA was able to switch to backup systems in some cases. This is no longer possible in the case of FDS: the FDS backup had already failed in 1981.

It looks like it will be a while before we hear anything positive about Voyager 1 again – if we hear it at all. Since it has been in space for more than 45 years, it is also possible that the sound of the probe will never be heard again. It will be for them Space travel A big loss, because very few space probes (in addition to Voyager 1, including the twin probes Voyager 2 and Pioneer 10) are in interstellar space. The last time Voyager 2 experienced problems was in the summer of 2023, and at that time, NASA was able to restore communication using Interstellar Shout.

Engineers are working on the Voyager 2 probe. The Voyager twin is the farthest human-made object from Earth.
Engineers are working on the Voyager 2 probe. The Voyager twin is the farthest human-made object from Earth. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/dpa

The Voyager 1 space probe is legendary

Voyager 1 is legendary in space travel: on its long journey to the edge of the solar system, it visited several planets and provided research with a wealth of data. Among other things, she also took the famous “pale blue dot” photo, which shows the Earth as a small pale blue dot in the vastness of space. (unpaid bill)