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Communication with Voyager 1 hits yet another glitch

Published Dec 13th, 2023 8:22PM EST
Voyager 1 in space
Image: Aleksandr / Adobe

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Communication with NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is currently on hold as the iconic probe has suffered another glitch. Voyager 1 was the victim of another mind-boggling issue back in May of 2022, but NASA engineers were able to solve it and get things working again. It remains to be seen if their luck will carry over this time, too.

According to a blog post shared this week, NASA says that the issue appears to be related to Voyager 1’s flight data system (FDS). The FDS is responsible for collecting onboard engineering information and data from various instruments on the probe. However, it is no longer communicating as expected. Instead, it’s sending what appears to be a looping message of ones and zeros.

Troubleshooting an issue like this on Voyager 1 is quite a feat as well, as the spacecraft is more than 15 billion miles from Earth, floating through interstellar space. Signals to the spacecraft take nearly a day to reach it (roughly 22.5 hours), meaning communication takes around 45 hours for just a single back-and-forth interaction.

illustration of Voyager probe in spaceImage source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Engineers have already tried rebooting the FDS in hopes of restoring Voyager 1’s communications, but NASA reports that this method did not resolve the issue, and the FDS continues to report back the same looping binary code that it first emitted earlier this week.

The last Voyager 1 glitch took several months to resolve, and NASA didn’t wholly solve the issue until a software patch was sent out to Voyager 1 back in October of 2023. But these kinds of updates don’t come quickly, and it’s never clear just how well the aging hardware of the Voyager probes will handle such things.

Hopefully, this isn’t the beginning of the end for Voyager 1, as the spacecraft still has a ton of potential when it comes to studying interstellar space, and it has seen an insane timeline throughout its life. If it does spell the downfall of the probe, though, at least we still have Voyager 2 to fall back on for some time.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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