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Voyager 1 no longer communicates clearly, but it is still giving off signs of life

Voyager 1 no longer communicates clearly, but it is still giving off signs of life

Voyager 1 has been traveling in space since 1977 and is now so far from Earth that it takes nearly two days to contact the control center. The spacecraft has had problems for some time and is no longer able to transmit data, but its “heartbeat” is still being detected by NASA JPL staff.

the Voyager 1 It was launched into space on September 5, 1977, to collect data on the Saturn and Jupiter systems, map the outer solar system, and observe new phenomena up close before the spacecraft continued its journey to the edge of the solar system. Voyager 1 entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012, followed by Voyager 2 on November 5, 2018. During its nearly 47-year journey, the probe traveled 162.9 astronomical units (more than 24 billion kilometers) away from Earth, and currently takes about 22 One hour and 35 minutes to deliver a message to the spacecraft, meaning a complete round-trip message exchange takes 45 hours. Plutonium-powered radioisotope thermoelectric generators could still provide propulsion for Voyager, but much of the equipment had to be shut down, such as the spectrometer that measures in the ultraviolet range, as well as the infrared interferometer, spectrometer and radiometer (IRIS). ) for that. To conserve energy.

The probe worked properly for a long time and collected scientific data in interstellar space, but problems have arisen several times recently. In May 2022, unintelligible messages began arriving at the ground control center containing invalid telemetry data. During the tests, it was revealed that the probe's existing position and control system (AACS, Attitude Expression and Control System) began sending signals through a computer that was supposed to have been turned off long ago and this computer modified the data. The solution to the problem was simple: they instructed the system to use the correct computer again to transfer the data, and later sent a patch to the software to prevent further errors. However, in December, more bad news arrived about Voyager:

This time, one of the aircraft's on-board computers, the FDS (Flight Data System), failed and communication with the Telemetry Modulation Unit (TMU) was lost.

As a result, starting in November, it was no longer transmitting valid and interpretable data to Earth either from scientific equipment or about the state of the spacecraft.

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The signals sent (rows 1 and 0) indicated that something was “stuck” in the device and restarting the computer did not help. Voyager 1's hardware, which was designed decades ago, and the spacecraft's distance from Earth don't make troubleshooting easy, so NASA estimated in December that it could take weeks to find a solution to the situation. Susan Dodd, project manager for the Voyager program, said in February He said Ars Technika said that “it would be a miracle” if the plane could be restored to its original condition and this is the most serious problem they have encountered with Voyager 1 in recent times. According to Dodd, it has been proven during tests that the starting point of the fault most likely lies in the FDS memory, but it is difficult to reveal the exact cause without telemetry data, which the probe's computer cannot transmit.

NASA JPL staff knows from signals (carrier tone) sent by Voyager 1 that the spacecraft is still operational and receiving instructions sent to it from Earth. However, it is not yet possible to communicate properly with the probe. Currently, experts are trying to find the faulty portion of the memory, but that will require combing through half a century of documents and controlling Voyager in a way not seen in decades. Thus, the future of Voyager 1 is uncertain, but it will continue its journey in space and since it will be accessible to the deep space network even in the 2030s, after the fault is resolved and it is supplied with sufficient power, it can remain in space. Contact the Earth for more years.

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(Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)


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