Voyager 1 continues to be alive on the market, barreling into the cosmos greater than 15 billion miles away. However, a pc drawback has saved the mission’s loyal assist workforce in Southern California from understanding rather more in regards to the standing of one in every of NASA’s longest-lived spacecraft.
The pc glitch cropped up on November 14, and it affected Voyager 1’s means to ship again telemetry knowledge, corresponding to measurements from the craft’s science devices or primary engineering details about how the probe was doing. As a end result, the workforce has no perception into key parameters relating to the craft’s propulsion, energy, or management programs.
“It would be the biggest miracle if we get it back. We certainly haven’t given up,” stated Suzanne Dodd, Voyager venture supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an interview with Ars. “There are other things we can try. But this is, by far, the most serious since I’ve been project manager.”
Dodd grew to become the venture supervisor for NASA’s Voyager mission in 2010, overseeing a small cadre of engineers accountable for humanity’s exploration into interstellar house. Voyager 1 is essentially the most distant spacecraft ever, dashing away from the solar at 38,000 mph (17 kilometers per second).
Voyager 2, which launched 16 days earlier than Voyager 1 in 1977, is not fairly as distant. It took a extra leisurely route by means of the photo voltaic system, flying previous Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, whereas Voyager 1 picked up pace throughout an encounter with Saturn to overhaul its sister spacecraft.
For the previous couple of many years, NASA has devoted Voyager’s devices to learning cosmic rays, the magnetic subject, and the plasma atmosphere in interstellar house. They’re not taking footage anymore. Both probes have traveled past the heliopause, the place the movement of particles emanating from the solar runs into the interstellar medium.
There aren’t any different operational spacecraft at the moment exploring interstellar house. NASA’s New Horizons probe, which flew previous Pluto in 2015, is on monitor to achieve interstellar house within the 2040s.
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The newest drawback with Voyager 1 lies within the probe’s Flight Data Subsystem (FDS), one in every of three computer systems on the spacecraft working alongside a command-and-control central pc and one other system overseeing angle management and pointing.
The FDS is accountable for amassing science and engineering knowledge from the spacecraft’s community of sensors after which combining the data right into a single knowledge package deal in binary code—a sequence of 1s and 0s. A separate element referred to as the Telemetry Modulation Unit truly sends the information package deal again to Earth by means of Voyager’s 12-foot (3.7-meter) dish antenna.
In November, the information packages transmitted by Voyager 1 manifested a repeating sample of 1s and 0s as if it have been caught, in keeping with NASA. Dodd stated engineers at JPL have spent the higher a part of three months attempting to diagnose the reason for the issue. She stated the engineering workforce is “99.9 percent sure” the issue originated within the FDS, which seems to be having hassle “frame syncing” knowledge.
So far, the bottom workforce believes the most certainly rationalization for the issue is a little bit of corrupted reminiscence within the FDS. However, due to the pc hangup, engineers lack detailed knowledge from Voyager 1 that may make them the basis of the difficulty. “It’s likely somewhere in the FDS memory,” Dodd stated. “A bit got flipped or corrupted. But without the telemetry, we can’t see where that FDS memory corruption is.”