NASA's Voyager-1 Space Probe Is Fully Back Online For First Time In 7 Months

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NASA’s Voyager-1 space probe is once again conducting normal science operations for the first time since experiencing a technical issue that caused it to stop communicating late last year. The Voyager-1 team successfully corrected the issue partially in April, allowing the spacecraft to be able to send back health and status updates back to Earth, and is now fully operational again. Voyager-1 and its twin Voyager-2 are the only spacecraft to fly in interstellar space (the space between stars).

Voyager-1 ceased sending readable science and engineering data back to Earth on November 14, 2023, even though mission controllers could tell the spacecraft was receiving their commands and otherwise operating normally. It took until March of this year for engineers to confirm the issue was tied to one of the spacecraft’s three onboard computers, known as the flight data subsystem (FDS).

Upon further research, the team discovered that a single chip responsible for storing a portion of the FDS memory wasn’t working properly. The team then came up with a plan to divide the affected code into sections and store those sections in different places in the FDS. The spacecraft successfully sent back a message on April 20, 2024, after five months of radio silence.

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On May 19, the team executed the second step of repairing the issue, by beaming a command to Voyager-1 to return science data. Two of the four science instruments returned to normal operations immediately, while the other two required additional work. However, all four are now functioning once again and returning usable science data.

NASA remarked that the four instruments study plasma waves, magnetic fields, and particles. Voyager-1 and Voyager-2 are the only spacecraft to operate in a region outside the heliosphere, the protective bubble of magnetic fields and solar wind created by the Sun. Voyager-1 is estimated to be over 15 billion miles from Earth, while Voyager-2 is estimated to be over 12 billion miles away.

While the news of Voyager-1 being back online and sending back usable science data is remarkable, NASA reported that additional minor work needs to be done to “clean up the effects of the issue.” The team will work to re-synchronize timekeeping software in the spacecraft’s three onboard computers so the computers can execute commands at the right time, along with performing maintenance on Voyager-1’s digital tape recorder.