Stranded in Interstellar Space, Only a Miracle Could Save Voyager 1

Published by Adrien - Friday, February 16, 2024 - Other Languages: FR, DE, ES, PT
Source: NASA

Voyager 1's odyssey, the NASA space probe launched in 1977, is currently marked by a major technical challenge. Despite a mission that has revolutionized our understanding of interstellar space, Voyager 1 is facing a communication failure that jeopardizes its ability to transmit data back to Earth.


View of the Voyager 1 probe.
Image NASA/JPL

Since November 14, Voyager 1 has been struggling to send the data collected by its scientific instruments. NASA engineers are working to correct a computer error that blocks data transmission. Despite these complications, the probe continues to receive and execute commands from Earth, continuing its journey through interstellar space more than 14.9 trillion miles from our planet.

The spacecraft usually transmits data via its flight data system, one of the three onboard computers. However, an apparent malfunction in its telemetry modulation unit (TMU) has led to the sending of repeated sequences of zeros instead of the usual binary code. Repairing this anomaly is made difficult by the probe's advanced age and its significant distance from Earth, requiring 45 hours for sent commands to receive a response.

Voyager 1's onboard technology, designed in the 1970s, is no longer cutting-edge, and many of its schematics are not digitized. Thus, resolving the issue requires a meticulous exploration of the original documents, often kept in paper form. Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager, has expressed slim hope of restoring communication despite the challenges posed by the loss of the probe's original designers and the necessity to refer to ancient documentation.

Even in the event of a failure with Voyager 1, NASA continues to communicate with Voyager 2, its twin spacecraft, which also reached interstellar space in 2018. Moreover, NASA's New Horizons probe is expected to leave the solar system in the 2040s, continuing the exploration of the unknown.
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