Voyager 1, farthest spacecraft from Earth, phones home after months of transmitting gibberish

Space probe, now over 24 billion km away from Earth, stopped sending useful science and engineering data in November

Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 23 April 2024 09:05 BST
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Nasa has finally established meaningful contact with Voyager 1 – the farthest human-made object from the Earth – after months of the space probe transmitting gibberish data.

For the first time since November, Voyager 1, which is over 24 billion km from Earth, began returning useful data about its health and the status of its engineering systems.

The probe, launched in 1977 to be the first human-made object to leave the solar system, stopped sending useful science and engineering data on 14 November 2023 – even though the spacecraft received commands from Earth.

Nasa then confirmed that the issue was due to one of the spacecraft’s three onboard computers that packaged data before transmitting it to Earth.

Engineers found that a single chip responsible for storing a portion of this computer’s memory, including a portion of its software code, was not working.

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They hoped to move the affected code elsewhere in the memory but other locations in the computer were not large enough to hold the code entirely.

So Nasa tweaked the affected code and divided it into sections, storing it in different computer parts aboard the spacecraft.

It did so while ensuring that the parts of the code still functioned as a whole when executed.

All these changes had to be relayed to the spacecraft to take effect. A radio signal takes nearly a whole day to reach Voyager 1 and another day to travel back to Earth.

On 20 April, Nasa observed that its modification worked, enabling engineers to check the health and status of the spacecraft for the first time in five months.

In the coming weeks, engineers hope to adjust the rest of the spacecraft’s onboard computer software to recover parts of the system responsible for packaging and transmitting science data from billions of miles away.

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