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Farthest spacecraft from Earth sends data to NASA for first time in 5 months

The farthest spacecraft from Earth has resumed sending data after a five-month hiatus, NASA announced Monday.

from NASA Voyager 1 spaceship was launched in 1977, about two weeks after the launch of its twin, Voyager 2. The spacecraft spent more than 45 years studying the outer solar system and conducted flybys of Jupiter and Saturn and traveled more than 46,000,000,000 miles.

In November 2023, the spacecraft stopped sending “readable scientific and technical data,” NASA said in a press release. Mission controllers were able to determine that Voyager 1 was still receiving commands from Earth and operating normally, but the science data could not be read and researchers did not know the status of the craft’s onboard engineering systems.

Artist’s impression of Voyager 1 in interstellar space.

NASA/JPL-Caltech


Last month, the craft’s engineering team was able to confirm that the problem was linked to one of the three onboard computers that make up Voyager 1’s flight data subsystem. This system aggregates data scientific and technical information in a readable format before sending them to Earth. The team determined that “a single chip responsible for storing part of the (system’s) memory, including some computer software code, was not working.”

The chip could not be repaired and the code was too large to put in a new location, NASA said. So the team worked to move the affected code into several sections of the flight data subsystem. It took weeks to repackage the code, NASA said, and last Thursday the new location was communicated to Voyager 1.

It takes approximately 22.5 hours for a radio signal to reach Voyager 1 in interstellar space, or the space between the stars, NASA said. On Saturday, the spacecraft’s mission team received a response confirming that the code change had worked.

Members of the Voyager flight team celebrate in a conference room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on April 20, 2024.

NASA/JPL-Caltech


Engineers celebrated receiving new data for the first time in nearly six months, but the work isn’t done yet. NASA said that in the coming weeks, the mission team will “move and adjust other relevant parts” of the software, including the parts that will begin returning science data. In the meantime, Traveler 2 continues to operate without problem, and both craft will continue to report from the far reaches of the solar system.

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