Engineers Solve Data Glitch on NASA’s Voyager 1 – But There’s Still a Problem

Voyager Spacecraft Traveling Through Space

An artist’s concept shows the Voyager spacecraft traveling through space against a field of stars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A critical system aboard the probe was sending garbled data about its status. Engineers have fixed the issue but are still seeking the root cause.

An issue affecting data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has been repaired by engineers. Earlier this year, the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS), which keeps Voyager 1’s antenna pointed at Earth, started sending jumbled information about its health and activities to mission controllers, even though it was otherwise operating normally. It also appeared that the rest of the probe was healthy as it continued to gather and return science data.

Since then, the team has located the source of the garbled information: The AACS had started sending the telemetry data through an onboard computer known to have malfunctioned years ago, and the computer corrupted the data.

Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager, said that when they suspected this was the issue, they decided to try a simple, low-risk solution: commanding the AACS to resume sending the data to the right computer.

Voyager Spacecraft Illustration

Voyager’s high-gain antenna, seen at the center of this illustration of the NASA spacecraft, is one component controlled by the attitude articulation and control system (AACS). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Engineers don’t yet know why the AACS started routing telemetry data to the incorrect computer. They think it likely received a faulty command generated by another onboard computer. If that’s indeed the case, it would indicate there is still an issue somewhere else on the spacecraft. The team will continue searching for that underlying issue, but they don’t think it is a threat to the long-term health of Voyager 1.

“We’re happy to have the telemetry back,” said Dodd. “We’ll do a full memory readout of the AACS and look at everything it’s been doing. That will help us try to diagnose the problem that caused the telemetry issue in the first place. So we’re cautiously optimistic, but we still have more investigating to do.”

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have been exploring our solar system for 45 years. Both spacecraft are now in interstellar space, the region outside the heliopause, or the bubble of energetic particles and magnetic fields from the Sun.

More About the Mission

A division of Caltech in Pasadena, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) built and operates the Voyager spacecraft. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

8 Comments on "Engineers Solve Data Glitch on NASA’s Voyager 1 – But There’s Still a Problem"

  1. Unfortunately, we all will experience such garbling of communications as we reach advanced age. It’s called “age-related cognitive decline”. Pity it’s not as easy to research and resolve as the Voyager’s issue.

  2. Sounds like HAL is playing tricks again 😉

  3. V GER has been born. In 2500 it will be back to wreak havoc. Luckily I saw how Kirk and Spock saved us. So yea we just need to remember for a millennium and a half.

  4. Considering the level of computer technology on the spacecraft and the amount of radiation it’s been cooked by, I’m really surprised that the damn thing is still communicating at all. Space is extremely hostile to electronics and the fact that it’s still working is a testament to the design skills that went in to it.

  5. @stay smart so true 👍 I’m 46 and I’ve been sending garbled telemetry for at least 5y

  6. it would seem to us that the electronics are to blame and not the engineers. just my thoughts on the glitch.

  7. What a testament to engineering that there’s still enough of us around to be able to work on ancient tech like this. Though our numbers are dwindling. I keep waiting for the younger generation to come in and try to take my job but we have the opposite problem. There aren’t enough of us. If you called what is on the voyager spacecraft “computers” in the IT industry you’d be laughed out of the building. More like early scientific calculator. Electrical engineering is a fascinating career which gives you insights into the very limits of physics as we know them. Join us and understand the universe better than you ever have before!!!

  8. Electronic systems that were never expected – even designed – to last this long are starting act up? Who would have thought? The Voyagers have been out there for only forty-five years.
    In 2002, I was in a tour of the Goldstone Tracking Station. Our guide told us that when it was necessary to communicate with either of the Voyagers, or Pioneer 10 – still operating at that time – all thirteen working antennae at Goldstone were linked together and, sometimes, the Very Large Array radio telescope at Socorro, New Mexico was linked in as well. All this listening power is needed for a signal that, in the case of Pioneer 10, was down to a billionth of a billionth of a watt by the time it reached Earth – barely above background noise. By now, the Voyagers’ signal, from transmitters that, when new, had an output wattage the same as a car brake light bulb, must be even fainter.
    The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Jewel in NASA’s Crown, has always known how to get the most bang from its buck – the Opportunity Mars Rover was built to last 90 days. It lasted fourteen years.

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