Voyager 1 spacecraft unable to send data due to an issue with its onboard computer

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is unable to send science or engineering data back to Earth due to a problem with one of Voyager 1’s three onboard computers.

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is traveling through interstellar space
An artist’s impression shows NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is currently traveling through interstellar space, the space between stars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Currently, the onboard computer, called the flight data system (FDS), is not communicating properly with the Voyager 1’s telemetry modulation unit (TMU). As a result, we are getting no science or engineering data from Voyager 1.

The telemetry modulation unit (TMU) acts as a translator, which converts a computer’s binary data into radio waves for transmission back to Earth.

However, the spacecraft is receiving and executing commands sent from Earth.

This past weekend, NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) team, which manages the spacecraft, tried to restart the FDS and return it to the state it was in before the issue began, but the spacecraft still isn’t returning usable data.

It could take several weeks to solve the issue because it takes 22.5 hours for a command to travel from Earth to Voyager 1 and another 22.5 hours for a response to make it back.

That means the engineering team has to wait 45 hours to get a response from Voyager 1 and to understand if a command was correct or not.

NASA’s JPL wrote about Voyager 1’s update on February 7, 2024, as “Engineers are still working to resolve a data issue on Voyager 1. We can talk to the spacecraft, and it can hear us, but it’s a slow process given the spacecraft’s incredible distance from Earth.”

According to the statement of NASA, “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.”

The positions of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 in the interstellar space
The positions of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft in interstellar space. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched on Monday, September 5, 1977. Currently, the spacecraft is exploring in interstellar space, a region outside the heliosphere and at a distance of more than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) away from Earth.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 are the farthest human-made objects from Earth and the longest-operating spacecraft in history.

Visit here to see the current position of Voyager 1 spacecraft in the interstellar space.

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About the Author

Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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