NASA’s iconic spacecraft launched in 1977 can’t phone home anymore

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are the two longest-operating spacecraft in history, and now NASA has announced that the first of the duo is unable to send data back to Earth.

NASA's iconic spacecraft launched in 1977 can't phone home anymore 2251


The space agency took to its website to briefly explain the issues it’s facing with Voyager 1 communications. Firstly, NASA states that Voyager 1’s flight data system, which is responsible for collecting onboard engineering information about the spacecraft’s scientific instruments, has experienced a glitch that has severed communications with Voyager 1’s telecommunications unit (TMU).

This overall problem is causing Voyager 1 to send back its data packages in a way that appears “stuck,” as it’s “transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeros.” Notably, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are currently in interstellar space, the region of space between stars. Both spacecrafts are approximately 15 billion miles from Earth, and due to their distance, a transmission takes 22.5 hours to reach the spacecraft. One back-and-forth communication with Voyager 1 is typically 45 hours.

Among other things, the FDS is designed to collect data from the science instruments as well as engineering data about the health and status of the spacecraft. It then combines that information into a single data “package” to be sent back to Earth by the TMU. The data is in the form of ones and zeros, or binary code. Varying combinations of the two numbers are the basis of all computer language,” writes NASA

Due to the primitive 1960/1970s technology within Voyager 1, engineers at NASA are limited in ways to remedy certain problems. However, this isn’t the first time Voyager 1 has faced a glitch. NASA engineers have come up with creative ways to get around such problems, and I truly hope this is another one of those cases.

Recently, the TMU began transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeros as if it were “stuck.” After ruling out other possibilities, the Voyager team determined that the source of the issue is the FDS. This past weekend the team 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 useable data,” added NASA

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