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‘humanity’s spacecraft’ voyager 1 is back online and still exploring.

After five months of glitching, the spacecraft is talking to Earth again from interstellar space

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is illustrated against and blue starry background.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft (illustrated) is back online after a few months of transmitting garbled data. It’s now poised to continue its exploration of interstellar space.

JPL-Caltech/NASA

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By Ramin Skibba

April 26, 2024 at 11:45 am

After months of challenging trouble-shooting and suspenseful waiting, Voyager 1 is once again talking to Earth.

The aging NASA spacecraft, about 24 billion kilometers from home, began transmitting garbled data in November. On April 20, NASA scientists got the probe back online after uploading new flight software to work around a chunk of onboard computer memory that had failed. They’re now receiving data about the spacecraft’s health and hope to hear from its science instruments again in a few weeks, says Suzanne Dodd, the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

That means the iconic craft could be on a path to recovery — and to continue its exploration of interstellar space.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 briefly visited Jupiter and Saturn before eventually departing the solar system. It and its twin, Voyager 2, are the longest-operating space probes, now tasked with studying far-flung solar particles and cosmic rays. In particular, the probes have been monitoring the changing of the sun’s magnetic field and the density of plasma beyond the solar system, yielding information about the farthest reaches of the sun’s influence .

“The spacecraft is really remarkable in its longevity. It’s incredible,” Dodd says. “We want to keep Voyager going as long as possible so we have this time record of these changes.”

Voyager 1 and 2, cruising along diverging paths, made history by crossing the heliopause in 2012 and 2018 , respectively ( SN: 9/12/13; SN: 12/10/18 ). At nearly 18 billion kilometers from the sun, that’s long been considered the outer extent of our star’s magnetic field and the solar wind, the boundary before interstellar space.

Since then, Dodd says, the science team has made some surprising findings ( SN: 11/4/19 ). For one, they’ve determined that the heliosphere, the huge bubble of space dominated by the solar wind, might not be spherical but have one or two tails, making it shaped like a comet or a croissant.

And thanks to Voyager, scientists now know that, despite expectations otherwise, the sun’s magnetic field and charged particles actually remain significant even beyond the heliopause, says David McComas, a Princeton University astrophysicist not involved in the mission.

Some theories predicted a serene environment in the distant oceans of interstellar space, but the Voyagers keep passing through waves of charged particles, indicating that the solar magnetic field still holds some sway there. What’s more, the probes’ data have shown how ripples in the field form bubbles at the edge of the solar system, which is more frothy and dynamic than expected.

Other missions have begun building on Voyager’s solar physics research. These include NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, and the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe, or IMAP, which is set to launch next year. Earth-orbiting IBEX has been measuring high-energy particles to map the heliosphere for 15 years, whereas IMAP will orbit between the sun and Earth, giving it an uninterrupted view of the sun as it monitors the galactic cosmic rays that manage to filter through the heliosphere.

“There’s a huge synergy between the Voyagers and both IBEX and IMAP,” says McComas, principal investigator of the latter two missions. “We were all really scared when Voyager 1 stopped phoning home.”

It will be decades until another mission could accomplish what the Voyagers have done. NASA’s New Horizons soared by Pluto in 2015 and kept going ( SN:8/9/18 ). It’s heading toward the edge of the solar system, but it’s cruising slowly and will run out of power before it can collect data beyond the heliopause.

The Voyagers can fly forever, but power for their instruments is waning. Over the next few years, NASA will shut some down to conserve energy for the rest.

That means Voyager 1’s days of collecting science data are numbered. “It’s a very beloved mission,” Dodd says. “It’s humanity’s spacecraft, and we need to take care of it.”

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45 years ago: voyager 1 begins its epic journey to the outer planets and beyond, johnson space center.

Forty-five years ago, the Voyager 1 spacecraft began an epic journey that continues to this day. The second of a pair of spacecraft, Voyager 1 lifted off on Sept. 5, 1977, 16 days after its twin left on a similar voyage. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, managed the two spacecraft on their missions to explore the outer planets. Taking advantage of a rare planetary alignment to use the gravity of one planet to redirect the spacecraft to the next, the Voyagers planned to use Jupiter’s gravity to send them on to explore Saturn and its large moon Titan. They carried sophisticated instruments to conduct their in-depth explorations of the giant planets. Both spacecraft continue to return data as they make their way out of our solar system and enter interstellar space.

voyager_1_tops_trajectories

In the 1960s, mission designers at JPL noted that the next occurrence of a once-every-175-year alignment of the outer planets would happen in the late 1970s. A spacecraft could take advantage of this opportunity to fly by Jupiter and use its gravity to bend its trajectory to visit Saturn, and repeat the process to also visit Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. Launching several missions to visit each planet individually would take much longer and cost much more. The original plan to send two pairs of Thermoelectric Outer Planet Spacecraft on these Grand Tours proved too costly leading to its cancellation in 1971. The next year, NASA approved a scaled-down version of the project to send a pair of Mariner-class spacecraft in 1977 to explore just Jupiter and Saturn, with an expected five-year operational life. On March 7, 1977, NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher announced the renaming of these Mariner Jupiter/Saturn 1977 spacecraft as Voyager 1 and 2. Scientists held out hope that one of them could ultimately visit Uranus and Neptune, thereby fulfilling most of the original Grand Tour’s objectives – Pluto would have to wait several decades for its first visit.

voyager_1_mjs_77_artwork_1975

Each Voyager carried a suite of 11 instruments to study the planets during each encounter and to learn more about interplanetary space in the outer reaches of the solar system, including: 

  • An imaging science system consisting of narrow-angle and wide-angle cameras to photograph the planet and its satellites.
  • A radio science system to determine the planet’s physical properties.
  • An infrared interferometer spectrometer to investigate local and global energy balance and atmospheric composition.
  • An ultraviolet spectrometer to measure atmospheric properties.
  • A magnetometer to analyze the planet’s magnetic field and interaction with the solar wind.
  • A plasma spectrometer to investigate microscopic properties of plasma ions.
  • A low-energy charged particle device to measure fluxes and distributions of ions.
  • A cosmic ray detection system to determine the origin and behavior of cosmic radiation.
  • A planetary radio astronomy investigation to study radio emissions from Jupiter.
  • A photopolarimeter to measure the planet’s surface composition.
  • A plasma wave system to study the planet’s magnetosphere.

voyager_1_instruments

Voyager 1 lifted off on Sept. 5, 1977, atop a Titan IIIE-Centaur rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, now Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, in Florida. Two weeks after its launch, from a distance of 7.25 million miles, Voyager 1 turned its camera back toward its home planet and took the first single-frame image of the Earth-Moon system. The spacecraft successfully crossed the asteroid belt between Dec. 10, 1977, and Sept. 8, 1978.

voyager_1_earth_and_moon_from_voyager_1_1977

Although Voyager 1 launched two weeks after its twin, it traveled on a faster trajectory and arrived at Jupiter four months earlier. Voyager 1 conducted its observations of Jupiter between Jan. 6 and April 13, 1979, making its closest approach of 216,837 miles from the planet’s center on March 5. The spacecraft returned 19,000 images of the giant planet, many of Jupiter’s satellites, and confirmed the presence of a thin ring encircling it. Its other instruments returned information about Jupiter’s atmosphere and magnetic field. Jupiter’s massive gravity field bent the spacecraft’s trajectory and accelerated it toward Saturn.

voyager_1_saturn_departure_nov_16_1980_3_3_m_miles

Voyager 1 began its long-range observations of Saturn on Aug. 22, 1980, passed within 114,500 miles of the planet’s center on Nov. 12, and concluded its studies on Dec. 14. Because of its interest to scientists, mission planners chose the spacecraft’s trajectory to make a close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon Titan – the only planetary satellite with a dense atmosphere – just before the closest approach to the planet itself. This trajectory, passing over Saturn’s south pole and bending north over the plane of the ecliptic, precluded Voyager 1 from making any additional planetary encounters. The spacecraft flew 4,033 miles from Titan’s center, returning images of its unbroken orange atmosphere and high-altitude blue haze layer. During the encounter, Voyager 1 returned 16,000 photographs, imaging Saturn, its rings, many of its known satellites and discovering several new ones, while its instruments returned data about Saturn’s atmosphere and magnetic field.

voyager_1_family_portrait

On Feb. 14, 1990, more than 12 years after it began its journey from Earth and shortly before controllers  permanently turned off its cameras to conserve power, Voyager 1 spun around and pointed them back into the solar system. In a mosaic of 60 images, it captured a “family portrait” of six of the solar system’s planets, including a pale blue dot called Earth more than 3.7 billion miles away. Fittingly, these were the last pictures returned from either Voyager spacecraft. On Feb. 17, 1998, Voyager 1 became the most distant human-made object, overtaking the Pioneer 10 spacecraft on their way out of the solar system. In February 2020, to commemorate the photograph’s 30th anniversary, NASA released a remastered version of the image of Earth as Pale Blue Dot Revisited .

earth-palebluedot-6bkm-voyager1

On New Year’s Day 1990, both spacecraft officially began the Voyager Interstellar Mission as they inexorably made their escape from our solar system. On Aug. 25, 2012, Voyager 1 passed beyond the heliopause, the boundary between the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space created by the Sun, and the interstellar medium. Its twin followed suit six years later. Today , 45 years after its launch and 14.6 billion miles from Earth, four of Voyager 1’s 11 instruments continue to return useful data, having now spent 10 years in interstellar space. Signals from the spacecraft take nearly 22 hours to reach Earth, and 22 hours for Earth-based signals to reach the spacecraft. Engineers expect that the spacecraft will continue to return data from interstellar space until about 2025 when it will no longer be able to power its systems. And just in case an alien intelligence finds it one day, Voyager 1 like its twin carries a gold-plated record that contains information about its home planet, including recordings of terrestrial sounds, music, and greetings in 55 languages. Engineers at NASA thoughtfully included Instructions on how to play the record.

voyager_1_golden_record

The voyage continues…

An illustration of the Voyager spacecraft.

This artist's concept shows the general locations of NASA's two Voyager spacecraft.

Voyager 1 Leaves Solar System, NASA Confirms

NASA’s far-flung spacecraft passed into interstellar space last year.

It’s official: Voyager 1 has slipped from the solar system.

Launched in 1977 , Voyager 1 traveled past Jupiter and Saturn and is now more than 11.66 billion miles (18.67 billion kilometers) from the sun, becoming the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space. Proof of this long-anticipated milestone for the storied spacecraft comes in a study released Thursday by the journal Science and announced at a celebratory NASA headquarters briefing.

"We made it! We are in interstellar space," said Voyager scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, speaking at the briefing.

Solar storm aftershocks at the edge of the solar system provide confirmation that the Voyager 1 spacecraft made the passage on August 25, 2012, space agency scientists said Thursday.

On that date, Voyager 1 passed beyond the fringes of the sun's outward-flowing solar wind and into the interstellar space between the stars.

"It is an incredible event, to send the first human object into interstellar space," says study lead author Donald Gurnett of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "It’s not quite the moon landing, but we are where the solar wind ends."

Finding the Solar System’s Edge

The solar wind flows outward from the sun traveling at one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) an hour, a bath of energetic particles that's blasted off the solar surface and into space, where it surrounds our star like a bubble.

At its edges, the solar wind piles up into the "interstellar wind," a cloud of cooler charged particles that suffuse the thin vacuum of space between stars. Since 2004, Voyager 1 had been traveling within the boundary region between the solar wind and the interstellar wind, which is the cooked-off debris of thousands of exploded stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

Knowing exactly where the solar wind ends and where interstellar space begins has been an open question among space scientists for more than four decades, says Stone.

Since an instrument for directly detecting that transition died in 1980, the researchers have had to rely on indirect measures of magnetic and electrical activity from other instruments aboard Voyager 1 to find an answer.

One key to identifying this boundary is the difference in the density of charged particles between the solar wind and interstellar space, as it is about 50 times greater in the latter region.

Looking at a pair of solar storms that caught up to the spacecraft last October and then again last April, Gurnett’s team reported that measured changes in electrical activity around Voyager correspond to interstellar space.

As the storms passed the spacecraft, they triggered spikes in electrical and radio waves that uniquely corresponded in frequency to the spacecraft having entered the more densely charged interstellar space.

Based on that increase, the team extrapolated the entry date for Voyager 1 into interstellar space as August 25, 2012.

"The spacecraft doesn't feel anything traveling into interstellar space. We can only detect the transition because of its instruments," says Stone, who was not on the study team.

The new report confirms an analysis made last year that found that Voyager had entered interstellar space, based on indirect measurements.

Stone finds the new report convincing: "Nature has finally given us a nice set of solar storms which show us that Voyager is now out in interstellar space."

Surprise! Galaxy, Sun's Magnetic Fields Aligned

Scientists were surprised by NASA's finding that the galaxy's magnetic field is apparently aligned in the same direction as the sun's, forming a "magnetic highway." Space scientists had generally assumed that the galaxy's magnetic field would have some other direction.

The alignment had stymied attempts to use magnetic measurements to determine a starting line for interstellar space.

"We have a lot to learn still, I think, is what it means," says Voyager scientist Stamatios Krimigis of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who reported the magnetic highway results last year .

Along with Voyager 1's measurement of increased galactic cosmic rays (the solar wind serves to partly shield the solar system from these high-powered rays), the new results have Krimigis "absolutely convinced."

"In the same way that Sputnik carried us out of the Earth's atmosphere in 1957, Voyager has now carried us outside the sun's atmosphere," Krimigis says. "It is quite an achievement in the short time that we have had spaceflight."

Given the estimated lifetime of the plutonium battery aboard Voyager 1, its last signals should be heard on Earth around 2025, Stone says. The spacecraft will eventually pass within 1.7 light years (about 16.1 trillion kilometers) of another star in 40,000 years, according to Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The spacecraft's twin, Voyager 2, which explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, is also still kicking, now some 9.55 billion miles (15.36 billion kilometers) from the sun on its own journey.

"It has really been an exciting 40 years for the mission, and the next 10 years should be exciting ones as well," Stone says. "We are still exploring places we have never been."

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NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is talking nonsense. Its friends on Earth are worried

Nell Greenfieldboyce 2010

Nell Greenfieldboyce

voyager 1 beyond the solar system

This artist's impression shows one of the Voyager spacecraft moving through the darkness of space. NASA/JPL-Caltech hide caption

This artist's impression shows one of the Voyager spacecraft moving through the darkness of space.

The last time Stamatios "Tom" Krimigis saw the Voyager 1 space probe in person, it was the summer of 1977, just before it launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Now Voyager 1 is over 15 billion miles away, beyond what many consider to be the edge of the solar system. Yet the on-board instrument Krimigis is in charge of is still going strong.

"I am the most surprised person in the world," says Krimigis — after all, the spacecraft's original mission to Jupiter and Saturn was only supposed to last about four years.

These days, though, he's also feeling another emotion when he thinks of Voyager 1.

"Frankly, I'm very worried," he says.

Ever since mid-November, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has been sending messages back to Earth that don't make any sense. It's as if the aging spacecraft has suffered some kind of stroke that's interfering with its ability to speak.

"It basically stopped talking to us in a coherent manner," says Suzanne Dodd of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who has been the project manager for the Voyager interstellar mission since 2010. "It's a serious problem."

Instead of sending messages home in binary code, Voyager 1 is now just sending back alternating 1s and 0s. Dodd's team has tried the usual tricks to reset things — with no luck.

It looks like there's a problem with the onboard computer that takes data and packages it up to send back home. All of this computer technology is primitive compared to, say, the key fob that unlocks your car, says Dodd.

"The button you press to open the door of your car, that has more compute power than the Voyager spacecrafts do," she says. "It's remarkable that they keep flying, and that they've flown for 46-plus years."

voyager 1 beyond the solar system

Each of the Voyager probes carries an American flag and a copy of a golden record that can play greetings in many languages. NASA/JPL-Caltech hide caption

Each of the Voyager probes carries an American flag and a copy of a golden record that can play greetings in many languages.

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, have outlasted many of those who designed and built them. So to try to fix Voyager 1's current woes, the dozen or so people on Dodd's team have had to pore over yellowed documents and old mimeographs.

"They're doing a lot of work to try and get into the heads of the original developers and figure out why they designed something the way they did and what we could possibly try that might give us some answers to what's going wrong with the spacecraft," says Dodd.

She says that they do have a list of possible fixes. As time goes on, they'll likely start sending commands to Voyager 1 that are more bold and risky.

"The things that we will do going forward are probably more challenging in the sense that you can't tell exactly if it's going to execute correctly — or if you're going to maybe do something you didn't want to do, inadvertently," says Dodd.

Linda Spilker , who serves as the Voyager mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says that when she comes to work she sees "all of these circuit diagrams up on the wall with sticky notes attached. And these people are just having a great time trying to troubleshoot, you know, the 60's and 70's technology."

"I'm cautiously optimistic," she says. "There's a lot of creativity there."

Still, this is a painstaking process that could take weeks, or even months. Voyager 1 is so distant, it takes almost a whole day for a signal to travel out there, and then a whole day for its response to return.

"We'll keep trying," says Dodd, "and it won't be quick."

In the meantime, Voyager's 1 discombobulation is a bummer for researchers like Stella Ocker , an astronomer with Caltech and the Carnegie Observatories

"We haven't been getting science data since this anomaly started," says Ocker, "and what that means is that we don't know what the environment that the spacecraft is traveling through looks like."

After 35 Years, Voyager Nears Edge Of Solar System

After 35 Years, Voyager Nears Edge Of Solar System

That interstellar environment isn't just empty darkness, she says. It contains stuff like gas, dust, and cosmic rays. Only the twin Voyager probes are far out enough to sample this cosmic stew.

"The science that I'm really interested in doing is actually only possible with Voyager 1," says Ocker, because Voyager 2 — despite being generally healthy for its advanced age — can't take the particular measurements she needs for her research.

Even if NASA's experts and consultants somehow come up with a miraculous plan that can get Voyager 1 back to normal, its time is running out.

The two Voyager probes are powered by plutonium, but that power system will eventually run out of juice. Mission managers have turned off heaters and taken other measures to conserve power and extend the Voyager probes' lifespan.

"My motto for a long time was 50 years or bust," says Krimigis with a laugh, "but we're sort of approaching that."

In a couple of years, the ebbing power supply will force managers to start turning off science instruments, one by one. The very last instrument might keep going until around 2030 or so.

When the power runs out and the probes are lifeless, Krimigis says both of these legendary space probes will basically become "space junk."

"It pains me to say that," he says. While Krimigis has participated in space missions to every planet, he says the Voyager program has a special place in his heart.

Spilker points out that each spacecraft will keep moving outward, carrying its copy of a golden record that has recorded greetings in many languages, along with the sounds of Earth.

"The science mission will end. But a part of Voyager and a part of us will continue on in the space between the stars," says Spilker, noting that the golden records "may even outlast humanity as we know it."

Krimigis, though, doubts that any alien will ever stumble across a Voyager probe and have a listen.

"Space is empty," he says, "and the probability of Voyager ever running into a planet is probably slim to none."

It will take about 40,000 years for Voyager 1 to approach another star; it will come within 1.7 light years of what NASA calls "an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor" — also known as the Little Dipper.

If NASA greenlights this interstellar mission, it could last 100 years

If NASA greenlights this interstellar mission, it could last 100 years

Knowing that the Voyager probes are running out of time, scientists have been drawing up plans for a new mission that, if funded and launched by NASA, would send another probe even farther out into the space between stars.

"If it happens, it would launch in the 2030s," says Ocker, "and it would reach twice as far as Voyager 1 in just 50 years."

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NASA's Voyager 1 detects faint, monotone hum beyond our solar system

Beyond the boundaries of our solar system, a gentle rain of plasma falls.

voyager 1 beyond the solar system

This artist's depiction imagines what Voyager 1 looked like when crossing into interstellar space.

NASA's  Voyager 1, the farthest spacecraft from Earth, said farewell to the solar system  almost a decade ago, passing through an invisible door some 11 billion miles from Earth and crossing into interstellar space . Since then, it's tacked on another 3 billion miles and it's still sending home data, allowing scientists to probe the space between stars. In a paper  published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday , researchers examined data beamed back by Voyager 1's Plasma Wave System over its journey, but particularly after it passed through over the solar system's border.

The border is a messy "edge" where the sun's influence disappears and the interstellar medium begins. The medium is typically characterized as empty, desolate and dark, but the PWS on Voyager 1 has detected a low, constant pattering against its detector, space raindrops gently falling on a window. Those drops signify plasma waves -- or interstellar gas -- is constant company for the spacecraft.

"We're detecting the faint, persistent hum of interstellar gas," said Stella Koch Ocker, a doctoral student at Cornell University who led the research. "It's very faint and monotone, because it is in a narrow frequency bandwidth."

For almost one billion miles, Voyager 1 could hear the monotone drone and the researchers believe these weak plasma waves are distinct from other detections made in the vast nothingness of interstellar space. For instance, sometimes the sun gets cranky and erupts, spitting particles out into space. The outbursts have a characteristic signature that James Cordes, an astronomer at Cornell, likens to a lightning burst.

Those bursts were once used to determine the density of interstellar plasma, but this low, constant hum shows Voyager is collecting plenty of information without the solar outbursts. "Now we know we don't need a fortuitous event related to the sun to measure interstellar plasma," said Shami Chatterjee, a research scientist at Cornell and co-author on the paper.

Future missions to interstellar space would help clarify what's happening out there -- and NASA has plans for such a mission, feasibly, in the 2030s .

Voyager 1 has a sister probe, Voyager 2, which is travelling out of the solar system in a different direction. In 2020, while upgrades were being made to one of the Deep Space Network's communications dishes, Voyager II wandered space alone. In November, we pinged the spacecraft for the first time in eight months and, fortunately, it pinged back a "hello."

The pair were launched in August and September 1977 and have been zipping away from Earth ever since. Voyager 2 left the solar system in 2018 at a completely different point to Voyager 1. The crossing enabled  researchers to further probe the heliosphere , the giant, protective bubble of solar wind that encapsulates the solar system.

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Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have reached "interstellar space" and each continue their unique journey deeper into the cosmos. In NASA's Eyes on the Solar System app, you can see the actual spacecraft trajectories of the Voyagers updated every five minutes.

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Voyager 1 whizzes through interstellar space at 17 kilometers per second.

On 14 November 2023, NASA’s interstellar space probe Voyager 1 began sending gibberish back to Earth. For five months, the spacecraft transmitted unusable data equivalent to a dial tone.

In March, engineers discovered the cause of the communication snafu: a stuck bit in one of the chips comprising part of Voyager’s onboard memory. The chip contained lines of code used by the flight data subsystem (FDS), one of three computers aboard the spacecraft and the one that is responsible for collecting and packaging data before sending it back to Earth.

JPL engineers sent a command through the Deep Space Network on 18 April to relocate the affected section of code to another part of the spacecraft’s memory, hoping to fix the glitch in the archaic computer system. Roughly 22.5 hours later, the radio signal reached Voyager in interstellar space, and by the following day it was clear the command had worked. Voyager began returning useful data again on 20 April.

NASA engineers managed to diagnose and repair Voyager 1 from 24 billion kilometers away—all while working within the constraints of the vintage technology. “We had some people left that we could rely on [who] could remember working on bits of the hardware,” says project scientist Linda Spilker . “But a lot of it was going back through old memos, like an archeological dig to try and find information on the best way to proceed.”

Minuscule Memory

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2—which also remains operational—were launched nearly 50 years ago, in 1977, to tour the solar system. Both spacecraft far surpassed their original missions of visiting Jupiter and Saturn, and in 2012, entered interstellar space .

“That mission literally rewrote the textbooks on the solar system,” says Jim Bell , a planetary scientist at Arizona State University and author of a book recounting 40 years of the mission. “We’ve never sent anything out that far, so every bit of data they send back is new.” The 1960s and 1970s technology, on the other hand, is now ancient.

Decades after the tech went out of vogue, the FDS still uses assembly language and 16-bit words . “These are two positively geriatric spacecraft,” says Todd Barber , a propulsion engineer for Voyager. Working to fix the issues, he says, is “like palliative care.”

To first diagnose the issue, NASA’s engineers first tried turning on and off different instruments, says Spilker. When that proved unsuccessful, they initiated a full memory readout of the FDS. “That’s what led to us finding that piece of hardware that had failed and that 256-bit chunk of memory,” she says. In one chip, the engineers found a stuck bit, fixed at the same binary value. It became clear that the chip was irreparable, so the team had to identify and relocate the affected code.

However, no single location was large enough to accommodate the extra 256 bits. “The size of the memory was the biggest challenge in this anomaly,” says Spilker. Voyager’s computers each have a mere 69.63 kilobytes of memory.

To begin fixing the issue, the team searched for corners of Voyager’s memory to place segments of code that would allow for the return of engineering data, which includes information about the status of science instruments and the spacecraft itself. One way the engineers freed up extra space was by identifying processes no longer used. For example, Voyager was programmed with several data modes—the rate at which data is sent back to Earth—because the spacecraft could transmit data much faster when it was closer to Earth. At Jupiter, the spacecraft transmitted data at 115.2 kilobits per second; now, that rate has slowed to 40 bits per second, and faster modes can be overwritten. However, the engineers have to be careful to ensure they don’t delete code that is used by multiple data modes.

Having successfully returned engineering data, the team is working to relocate the rest of the affected code in the coming weeks. “We’re having to look a little harder to find the space and make some key decisions about what to overwrite,” says Spilker. When their work is completed, the Voyager team hopes to return new science data, though unfortunately, all data from the anomaly period was lost.

Built to Last

The cause of the stuck bit is a mystery, but it’s likely the chip either wore out with age or was hit by a highly energetic particle from a cosmic ray. Having entered interstellar space, “Voyager is out bathed in the cosmic rays,” Spilker says. Luckily, the spacecraft was built to take it, with its electronic components shielded from the large amount of radiation present at Jupiter. “That’s serving us quite well now in the interstellar medium.”

When Voyager was built, the 12-year trip to Uranus and Neptune alone was a “seemingly impossible goal for a 1977 launch,” says Barber. The longevity of Voyager is a testament of its engineering, which accounted for many contingencies and added redundancy. The mission also included several firsts, for example, as the first spacecraft with computers able to hold data temporarily using volatile CMOS memory. (An 8-track digital tape recorder onboard stores data when collected at a high rate.)

Importantly, it was also the first mission with a reprogrammable computer. “We take it for granted now,” Bell says, but before Voyager, it wasn’t possible to adjust software in-flight. This capability proved essential when the mission was extended, as well as when issues arise.

Going forward, the Voyager team expects to encounter additional problems in the aging spacecraft—though they hope to make it to the 50-year anniversary before the next one. “With each anomaly, we just learn more about how to work with the spacecraft and are just amazed at the capabilities that the engineers built into it using that 1960s and ’70s technology,” Spilker says. “It’s just amazing.”

  • 50 Years Later, This Apollo-Era Antenna Still Talks to Voyager 2 ›
  • Voyager 1 Hasn't Really Left The Solar System, But That's OK ›
  • Mission Status - Voyager ›
  • Voyager 1 ›

Gwendolyn Rak is a contributor to IEEE Spectrum .

Kenneth Peal

I worked with COSMAC and similar rudimentary processors in the early 70’s so was curious to learn how they solved this problem. The nearest it got was “they initiated a full memory readout of the FDS.” But if the telemetry was faulty how did the get the readout?

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Voyager 1 sends strange signals from beyond the solar system. Scientists are confused.

Spending 45 years traversing the solar system really does a number on a spacecraft.

An illustration of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is traveling through interstellar space.

NASA's Voyager 1 mission launched in 1977, passed into what scientists call interstellar space in 2012 and just kept going — the spacecraft is now 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) away from Earth . And while Voyager 1 is still operating properly, scientists on the mission recently noticed that it appeared confused about its location in space without going into safe mode or otherwise sounding an alarm.

"A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission," Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a statement .

Related : Pale Blue Dot at 30: Voyager 1's iconic photo of Earth from space reveals our place in the universe

"The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated," Dodd added. "We're also in interstellar space — a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before."

The glitch has to do with Voyager 1's attitude articulation and control system, or AACS, which keeps the spacecraft and its antenna in the proper orientation. And the AACS seems to be working just fine, since the spacecraft is receiving commands, acting on them and sending science data back to Earth with the same signal strength as usual. Nevertheless, the AACS is sending the spacecraft's handlers junk telemetry data.

The NASA statement does not specify when the issue began or how long it has lasted.

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The agency says that Voyager personnel will continue to investigate the issue and attempt to either fix or adapt to it. That's a slow process, since a signal from Earth currently takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to reach Voyager 1; receiving the spacecraft's response carries the same delay.

— What Voyager 1 learned at Jupiter 40 years ago — Voyager at 40: 40 photos from NASA's epic 'grand tour' mission — Voyager 1's historic flyby of Jupiter in photos  

The twin Voyager 2 probe, also launched in 1977, is behaving normally, NASA said. The power the twin spacecraft can produce is always falling, and mission team members have turned some components off to save juice — measures they hope will keep the probes working through at least 2025.

"There are some big challenges for the engineering team," Dodd said. "But I think if there's a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it."

Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @ meghanbartels . Follow us on Twitter @ Spacedotcom and on Facebook .

Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.

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voyager 1 beyond the solar system

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Is Voyager 1 really out of the solar system?

It's 36 years since Voyager 1 was dispatched in 1977 on a mission to send back images of Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere and volcanic eruptions on one of its moons, Io. Then it was due to travel on to Saturn to examine that planet's intricate system of rings and moons. But after travelling more than 11bn miles, where is Voyager now? No one, it seems, knows for sure.

Nasa scientists including Edward Stone, the father of the programme at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, say Voyager 1 has yet to pass beyond the reach of our sun's radiation. But a controversial study published last week in the Astrophysical Journal claims Nasa scientists misinterpreted magnetic field data and the satellite passed beyond the boundary known as the heliosheath a year ago. Put another way, Voyager 1 has left the solar system.

According to Marc Swisdak, an astrophysics researcher at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study, Voyager 1 made that giant leap on 27 July 2012, when it recorded a permanent drop in heliosphere-produced particles and an increase in galactic cosmic rays from outside the solar system.

"Our three lines of data are consistent with Voyager being outside the solar system," Swisdak told the Observer last week. "There's a class of particles generated within the solar system and we're not seeing them any more. Then there's the question of the magnetic field. You can get outside the solar system without seeing too much of a shift in the data." As Voyager clears the distortion, he says, the magnetic data will begin to conform.

"This is the first opportunity to take actual direct measurements of the particles and the magnetic fields," said Swisdak. "Instead of a indirect, complicated chains of arguments, we can say what's actually out there – and that's something rare in astronomy. Voyager is allowing us to see what's really out there."

Nasa has yet to confirm the finding. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology, led by Stone, believe the craft is travelling through a mysterious region at the edge of the heliosphere. They have said they will know Voyager has left the solar system when magnetic fields emanate from the long arms of our galaxy, not the sun.

But after running 100,000 processor hours of computer simulations on a Berkeley supercomputer called Hopper, Swisdak's team claim Nasa is failing to account for "magnetic reconnection" – when opposing magnetic field lines come together, snap and form new connections. They hypothesise that the magnetic fields of the sun and of interstellar space join in "magnetic islands" that make the border uneven.

Their study echoes claims made earlier this year – and dismissed by Nasa – in the journal of the American Geophysical Union that Voyager had travelled outside the solar system. This time Nasa has taken a more measured approach. "The Voyager 1 spacecraft is exploring a region no spacecraft has ever been to before," said Stone. "We will continue to look for any further developments over the coming months and years as Voyager explores an uncharted frontier."

Conceived of to take advantage of a rare alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune that occurs once every 175 years, Nasa's original programme was designed for a "Grand Tour" of the solar system by harnessing the gravity of one planet to swing to the next. The mission's two probes, Voyagers 1 and 2, used satellites designed to last just five years. Yet they sail on, at 55,000km/h, their cameras shut down and using only essential instruments to ration power from their plutonium batteries that are expected to last until around 2020.

Scientists have estimated that in 40,000 years each spacecraft will be in the neighbourhood of other stars and about two light years from the sun.

Famously, each carries a phonograph record – a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc – containing 115 images and a variety of natural sounds and spoken greetings from Earth in 55 languages, along with messages from the then US president, Jimmy Carter, and UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim.

Leaving the solar system, Stone told Scientific American , will be "a milestone in human activity".

Both Voyagers will likely outlive Earth, he added: when, billions of years from now, the sun swells into a red giant, the Voyagers, albeit without power, will continue on course for the unknown.

Swisdak says: "Nothing comes close to Voyager in terms of interplanetary missions. They wanted to look at Jupiter and Saturn. Then, using a little wizardry, they got Voyager 2 to go by Uranus and Neptune. But nobody ever dreamed we'd get a look at interstellar space."

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Voyager 1 was in crisis in interstellar space. NASA wouldn’t give up.

NASA engineers spent months doggedly trying to fix a computer on Voyager 1, a spacecraft launched in the 1970s that’s now exploring interstellar space.

voyager 1 beyond the solar system

For the past six months a team of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been trying to fix a glitchy computer. Three things make the repair job challenging:

The computer is highly customized and unlike anything on the market today.

It was built in the 1970s.

And it is 15 billion miles away.

The computer is on Voyager 1, the most distant human-made spacecraft ever launched. Far beyond the orbit of Pluto, it is riding point for all humanity as it hurtles through interstellar space.

But on Nov. 14, Voyager 1 suddenly stopped sending any data back to Earth. While it remained in radio contact, the transmission had, as NASA engineers put it, “flatlined.” So began the greatest crisis in the history of the fabled Voyager program.

Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, launched in 1977 and in the years that followed obtained stunning close-up images of Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 also flew by Uranus and Neptune and is the only spacecraft to have visited those ice giants. The Voyagers blew past the heliopause, where the solar wind abates and interstellar space begins, and continued to send back science data about particles and magnetic fields in a realm never before visited.

The two Voyagers are powered by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238, and in the near future that power source will be too feeble to keep the spacecraft warm and functioning. But for now, they have operational scientific instruments that are sending back otherwise unobtainable data on the composition of space beyond the heliopause.

Fixing Voyager 1 quickly became a priority for NASA, and especially for Jeffrey Mellstrom, who has been at JPL in Pasadena for 35 years and is the chief engineer in the astronomy and physics directorate.

Mellstrom took on the challenge even as he planned for retirement in the spring. In January, Mellstrom told a colleague, “The one thing I’m going to regret is if I retire before we solve Voyager 1’s problem.”

Like kicking a vending machine

After initial attempts to resolve the issue went nowhere, JPL leadership created a “tiger team” made of a multigenerational crew of engineers, some of them veterans of the lab and some born long after the Voyagers launched.

“We didn’t know how to solve this in the beginning because we didn’t know what’s wrong,” said Mellstrom, the team’s leader.

Voyager 1 has three computers. One is the attitude and articulation control system, which makes sure the spacecraft is pointed in the right direction. Another is the command control system, which handles the commands coming from Earth. The third is the flight data subsystem, which takes science and engineering data and packages it for transmission home.

Something had gone wrong somewhere in that trio of computers. Maybe a “cosmic ray” — a particle from deep space — had smashed into a computer chip. Or maybe a piece of hardware just got so old it ceased to work.

“All we had was incoherent data, garbled data,” said Suzanne Dodd, the Voyager project manager since 2010. Dodd has been at JPL for four decades, and in her early years she wrote computer code for Voyager 2’s encounters with Uranus and Neptune. She vividly remembers that first close-up look of Neptune and an image of the ice giant with its huge moon Triton in the background.

“We didn’t know what part of the spacecraft was involved with this,” Dodd said.

So they poked it. They sent commands to Voyager 1, trying to jolt it back to coherence. The team had a list of potential failures and figured that one of the commands might have the equivalent effect of kicking a vending machine.

Here is where the troubleshooting encountered an inviolable obstacle: the speed of light. Even at 186,000 miles per second, a command sent to Voyager 1 would take 22½ hours to arrive. Then the engineers would have to wait another 22½ hours for the spacecraft to send a response.

The planet Earth is kind of a pain, too, because it spins inconveniently on its axis and moves restlessly around the sun. To communicate with distant spacecraft, NASA relies on the Deep Space Network, three arrays of huge radio telescopes in California, Spain and Australia. The idea is that, regardless of Earth’s movement, at least one array can be pointed toward a spacecraft at almost any time.

The tiger team developed a pattern of sending a command on a Friday and waiting for the return signal on Sunday. Some dark days and weeks followed.

“None of those commands that we sent were able to make any discernible difference whatsoever,” said David Cummings, an advanced flight software designer and developer.

In late February, the team sent a series of commands to prod the flight data subsystem to place software in each of 10 different “data modes.” The team waited, hoping for a breakthrough. After two days, Voyager responded — still without data. Engineer Greg Chin circulated a technical chart and summarized the situation: “So, at this time, no joy.”

“It was unbelievably depressing,” Cummings said. “Luckily the story doesn’t end there.”

Cracking the code

Just a day after the “no joy” email, the team felt a surge of optimism.

JPL has specialists in radio transmissions, and they noticed that in some “modes” the return signal from Voyager 1 had been modulated in a pattern consistent with the flight subsystem computer producing data, though not in any normal format. The modulation suggested that the processor was functioning and supported the team’s conjecture that some of the memory had been corrupted.

“That was huge,” Cummings said. “The processor was not dead.”

Painstakingly, the team at last tracked down the origin of the problem: a bad memory chip holding one bit — the smallest unit of binary data — for each of 256 contiguous words of memory.

The flight data subsystem was built with 8K memory, or more exactly 8,192 bytes. (A modern smartphone has something like 6G memory, or 6 billion bytes.)

The engineers came up with a plan: They would move the software to different parts of the flight data subsystem memory. Unfortunately they couldn’t just move the 256 words in a single batch, because there was no place roomy enough for all of it. They had to break it down into pieces. And they’d have to proofread everything. It was tedious, error-prone work.

Cummings called a young JPL flight software engineer named Armen Arslanian: “Do you want to help me relocate Voyager code?”

Arslanian was the right person for the job. Just six years out of college, he knew how to write code for spacecraft, and he knew how to deal with “assembly language,” the coding that underlies the common languages used by programmers today. That’s the language of Voyager’s 1970s-era computers.

“I ended up needing that skill,” Arslanian said.

The JPL teams had documentation from the 1970s describing the function of the software, but often the descriptions were contingent on other information that could not be found. The team also lacked the tools to verify their coding. They had to do everything essentially by hand. It wasn’t like trying to find a needle in a haystack so much as like trying to examine every piece of hay for possible flaws.

The team prioritized the software for the engineering data so that they could fully restore communication with the spacecraft. If that worked, they could fix the science data later.

On April 18, the team sent a package of commands to the spacecraft and then waited. Two days later the spacecraft sent back the first intelligible engineering data in more than five months.

There is more work to be done, but the end is in sight. The engineers are still working on transferring the code that controls the scientific data. But they know how to do this. They found the problem, figured out the workaround and are just grinding through the code transfer.

Mellstrom and Dodd are fully confident that Voyager 1 has been saved. Mellstrom said he can retire without regret.

“The spacecraft is working,” Dodd said. “Go Voyager!”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Jeffrey Mellstrom and Suzanne Dodd are married. They are married to other people. This story has been corrected.

voyager 1 beyond the solar system

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Galleries of Images Voyager Took

The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune before starting their journey toward interstellar space. Here you'll find some of those iconic images, including "The Pale Blue Dot" - famously described by Carl Sagan - and what are still the only up-close images of Uranus and Neptune.

Jupiters Great Spot

Photography of Jupiter began in January 1979, when images of the brightly banded planet already exceeded the best taken from Earth. Voyager 1 completed its Jupiter encounter in early April, after taking almost 19,000 pictures and many other scientific measurements. Voyager 2 picked up the baton in late April and its encounter continued into August. They took more than 33,000 pictures of Jupiter and its five major satellites.

Image of Saturn

The Voyager 1 and 2 Saturn encounters occurred nine months apart, in November 1980 and August 1981. Voyager 1 is leaving the solar system. Voyager 2 completed its encounter with Uranus in January 1986 and with Neptune in August 1989, and is now also en route out of the solar system.

Image of Uranus

NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew closely past distant Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, in January. At its closet, the spacecraft came within 81,800 kilometers (50,600 miles) of Uranus's cloudtops on Jan. 24, 1986. Voyager 2 radioed thousands of images and voluminous amounts of other scientific data on the planet, its moons, rings, atmosphere, interior and the magnetic environment surrounding Uranus.

Image of Neptune

In the summer of 1989, NASA's Voyager 2 became the first spacecraft to observe the planet Neptune, its final planetary target. Passing about 4,950 kilometers (3,000 miles) above Neptune's north pole, Voyager 2 made its closest approach to any planet since leaving Earth 12 years ago. Five hours later, Voyager 2 passed about 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) from Neptune's largest moon, Triton, the last solid body the spacecraft will have an opportunity to study.

Image of Neptune

This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed 'Pale Blue Dot', is a part of the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. From Voyager's great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Coincidentally, Earth lies right in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun. This blown-up image of the Earth was taken through three color filters -- violet, blue and green -- and recombined to produce the color image. The background features in the image are artifacts resulting from the magnification.

This Week In Space podcast: Episode 110 — Voyager 1's Brush with Silence

Saving an Icon With Project Scientist Dr. Linda Spilker

On Episode 110 of This Week In Space , Rod and Tariq talk with Linda Spilker, Voyager project scientist, about the recent rescue of Voyager 1 from beyond the solar system.

The Voyager probes have been transiting space since 1977, and they're still at it 46 years later. But late in 2023, Voyager 1, now 15 billion miles distant, started sending what the flight controllers called "gibberish" back to Earth — uncoordinated ones and zeros and a heartbeat tone. They knew it was still alive, but something had gone wrong. 

The small team of software wizards at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory got to work and came up with a workaround... but due to the age of the program, did not have an old enough computer on the ground to test it! They'd have to eyeball the sequence and send it to overwrite existing programming on the spacecraft. 

The round-trip radio signal from Earth takes 45 hours... and it was a nail-biter.

Download or subscribe to this show at:   https://twit.tv/shows/this-week-in-space . Get episodes ad-free with Club TWiT at  https://twit.tv/clubtwit  

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Rod Pyle  is an author, journalist, television producer and Editor-in-Chief of  Ad Astra  magazine . He has written  18 books  on space history, exploration, and development, including  Space 2.0 ,  Innovation the NASA Way ,  Interplanetary Robots ,  Blueprint for a Battlestar ,  Amazing Stories of the Space Age ,  First On the Moon , and  Destination Mars

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Responsible for Space.com's editorial vision, Tariq Malik has been the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com since 2019 and has covered space news and science for 18 years. He joined the Space.com team in 2001, first as an intern and soon after as a full-time spaceflight reporter covering human spaceflight, exploration, astronomy and the night sky. He became Space.com's managing editor in 2009. As on-air talent has presented space stories on CNN, Fox News, NPR and others.

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voyager 1 beyond the solar system

voyager 1 beyond the solar system

Voyager 1 stops communicating with Earth

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NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has experienced a computer glitch that’s causing a bit of a communication breakdown between the 46-year-old probe and its mission team on Earth.

Engineers are currently trying to solve the issue as the aging spacecraft explores uncharted cosmic territory along the outer reaches of the solar system.

Voyager 1 is currently the farthest spacecraft from Earth at about 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) away, while its twin Voyager 2 has traveled more than 12 billion miles (20 billion kilometers) from our planet. Both are in interstellar space and are the only spacecraft ever to operate beyond the heliosphere, the sun’s bubble of magnetic fields and particles that extends well beyond the orbit of Pluto.

Initially designed to last five years, the Voyager probes are the two longest-operating spacecraft in history. Their exceptionally long lifespans mean that both spacecraft have provided additional insights about our solar system and beyond after achieving their preliminary goals of flying by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune decades ago.

But their unexpectedly lengthy journeys have not been without challenges.

Voyager 1 has three onboard computers, including a flight data system that collects information from the spacecraft’s science instruments and bundles it with engineering data that reflects the current health status of Voyager 1. Mission control on Earth receives that data in binary code, or a series of ones and zeroes.

But Voyager 1’s flight data system now appears to be stuck on auto-repeat, in a scenario reminiscent of the film “ Groundhog Day .”

A long-distance glitch

The mission team first noticed the issue November 14, when the flight data system’s telecommunications unit began sending back a repeating pattern of ones and zeroes, like it was trapped in a loop.

While the spacecraft can still receive and carry out commands transmitted from the mission team, a problem with that telecommunications unit means no science or engineering data from Voyager 1 is being returned to Earth.

The Voyager team sent commands over the weekend for the spacecraft to restart the flight data system, but no usable data has come back yet, according to NASA .

NASA engineers are currently trying to gather more information about the underlying cause of the issue before determining the next steps to possibly correct it, said Calla Cofield, media relations specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages the mission. The process could take weeks.

The last time Voyager 1 experienced a similar, but not identical, issue with the flight data system was in 1981, and the current problem does not appear to be connected to other glitches the spacecraft has experienced in recent years, Cofield said.

As both Voyager probes experience new trials, mission team members have only the original manuals written decades ago to consult, and those couldn’t account for the challenges the spacecraft are facing as they age.

The Voyager team wants to consider all of the potential implications before sending more commands to the spacecraft to make sure its operations aren’t impacted in an unexpected way.

Voyager 1 is so far away that it takes 22.5 hours for commands sent from Earth to reach the spacecraft. Additionally, the team must wait 45 hours to receive a response.

Keeping the Voyager probes alive

As the aging twin Voyager probes continue exploring the cosmos, the team has slowly turned off instruments on these “senior citizens” to conserve power and extend their missions, Voyager’s project manager Suzanne Dodd previously told CNN .

Along the way, both spacecraft have encountered unexpected issues and dropouts, including a seven-month period in 2020 when Voyager 2 couldn’t communicate with Earth. In August, the mission team used a long-shot “shout” technique to restore communications with Voyager 2 after a command inadvertently oriented the spacecraft’s antenna in the wrong direction.

While the team hopes to restore the regular stream of data sent back by Voyager 1, the mission’s main value lies in its long duration, Cofield said. For example, scientists want to see how particles and magnetic fields change as the probes fly farther away from the heliosphere. But that dataset will be incomplete if Voyager 1 can’t return information as it continues on.

The mission team has been creative with its strategies for extending the power supply on both spacecraft in recent years to allow their record-breaking missions to continue.

“The Voyagers are performing far, far past their prime missions and longer than any other spacecraft in history,” Cofield said. “So, while the engineering team is working hard to keep them alive, we also fully expect issues to arise.”

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IMAGES

  1. Voyager 1 Reaches Beyond Our Solar System

    voyager 1 beyond the solar system

  2. Voyager spacecraft beyond the solar system, illustration

    voyager 1 beyond the solar system

  3. Voyager-1 spacecraft: 40 years of history and interstellar flight

    voyager 1 beyond the solar system

  4. Foust Forward

    voyager 1 beyond the solar system

  5. The Voyager makes it to the solar system edge

    voyager 1 beyond the solar system

  6. Voyager 1 travels beyond our solar system

    voyager 1 beyond the solar system

VIDEO

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  6. Journey Beyond_ Solar System & Exoplanet

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  7. Voyager 1

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  9. Voyager Finds Three Surprises Near Our Solar System's Edge

    Voyager 1 is expected to pass beyond the heliopause into interstellar space in eight to 10 years, with Voyager 2 expected to follow about five years later. Voyager 1 has already passed the termination shock, where the million-mile-per-hour solar wind abruptly slows and becomes denser and hotter as it presses against interstellar gas.

  10. Voyager

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  11. Voyager

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  12. 45 Years Ago: Voyager 1 Begins its Epic Journey to the Outer ...

    On New Year's Day 1990, both spacecraft officially began the Voyager Interstellar Mission as they inexorably made their escape from our solar system. On Aug. 25, 2012, Voyager 1 passed beyond the heliopause, the boundary between the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space created by the Sun, and the interstellar medium.

  13. Good news from Voyager 1, which is now out past the edge of the solar

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    Now Voyager 1 is over 15 billion miles away, beyond what many consider to be the edge of the solar system. Yet the on-board instrument Krimigis is in charge of is still going strong.

  17. NASA's Voyager 1 detects faint, monotone hum beyond our solar system

    Voyager 2 left the solar system in 2018 at a completely different point to Voyager 1. The crossing enabled researchers to further probe the heliosphere , the giant, protective bubble of solar wind ...

  18. ScienceShot: Has Voyager 1 Left the Solar System?

    More than 35 years after its launch and almost 33 years since it whizzed near Saturn, the Voyager 1 spacecraft may have officially left the solar system. On 25 August last year, when the craft was more than 18 billion kilometers from the sun, sensors noted a steep drop-off in the numbers of so-called anomalous cosmic rays, the charged particles ...

  19. 'Voyager on steroids.' Mission would probe mysterious region beyond our

    A big surprise came in 2007, when Voyager 2, diving below the ecliptic plane in which the planets orbit, crossed the termination shock: where the solar wind first starts to falter as it is buffeted by the interstellar gas and dust the Solar System is barreling through. Voyager 1 had crossed the shock 3 years earlier, some 94 astronomical units ...

  20. Voyager 1 has left the Solar System. Will we ever overtake it?

    This 1997 artwork shows the planets of the Solar System and the relative trajectories of the first four spacecraft on a course to exist the Solar System. In 1998, Voyager 1 overtook Pioneer 10 ...

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    The greatest space mission ever. Voyager 1, which took a more direct route through the Solar System, passed out into interstellar space in 2012, before Voyager 2 joined it in 2018. Currently ...

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    Voyager 1 Present Position. This simulated view of the solar system allows you to explore the planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and spacecraft exploring our solar system. You can also fast-forward and rewind in real-time. NASA/JPL-Caltech.

  23. How NASA is Hacking Voyager 1 Back to Life

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  24. Voyager 1 sends strange signals from beyond the solar system

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  25. Is Voyager 1 really out of the solar system?

    Nasa scientists including Edward Stone, the father of the programme at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, say Voyager 1 has yet to pass beyond the reach of our sun's radiation.

  26. Voyager 1 was in crisis in interstellar space. NASA wouldn't give up

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  27. Voyager

    Voyager 1 is leaving the solar system. Voyager 2 completed its encounter with Uranus in January 1986 and with Neptune in August 1989, and is now also en route out of the solar system. Uranus NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft flew closely past distant Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, in January. At its closet, the spacecraft came within 81,800 ...

  28. Voyager Mission

    Join us on an incredible voyage through the cosmos as we explore the groundbreaking missions of NASA's Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft! Launched in 1977, ...

  29. This Week In Space podcast: Episode 110

    Comments (0) On Episode 110 of This Week In Space, Rod and Tariq talk with Linda Spilker, Voyager project scientist, about the recent rescue of Voyager 1 from beyond the solar system. The Voyager ...

  30. Voyager 1 stops communicating with Earth

    NASA's 46-year-old Voyager 1 spacecraft has experienced a computer glitch that prevents it from returning science data to Earth from the solar system's outer reaches.