NASA's deep space detective story unfolds with Voyager 1

NASA's deep space detective story unfolds with Voyager 1

Artistic illustration of one of the Voyager spaceships. Source: California Institute of Technology/NASA-JPL

Since November 2023, NASAGoogle's Voyager 1 spacecraft sends unusable data back to Earth. Engineers detected unusual signals in March that revealed a complete memory readout of the spacecraft's onboard computer, providing clues to fixing the spacecraft's data transmission problems.

Since November 2023, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has been sending a stable radio signal toward Earth, but the signal contains no usable data. The source of the problem appears to be one of the plane's three on-board computers, the Flight Data Subsystem (FDS), which is responsible for collecting scientific and engineering data before sending it to Earth by the telemetry modulation unit.

New data signal detected

On March 3, the Voyager mission team observed activity in a section of the FDS that differed from the rest of the stream of non-computer-readable data. The new signal wasn't in the format Voyager 1 used when FDS was working properly, so the team wasn't initially sure what to do with it. But an engineer at the agency's Deep Space Network, which operates the radio antennas that communicate with the Voyager rovers and other spacecraft traveling to the Moon and beyond, was able to decode the new signal and discovered that it contained a readout of the entire FDS memory.

Troubleshooting and analysis

The FDS memory includes its own code, or instructions on what to do, as well as variables or values ​​used in the code that can change based on commands or the state of the spacecraft. It also contains downlink scientific or technical data. The team will compare this read to those published before the issue occurred and look for inconsistencies in code and variables to find the source of the ongoing issue.

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This new signal results from a command sent to Voyager 1 on March 1. The command, which the team called “poke,” is intended to gently prompt FDS to try different sequences in its software stack in case the problem can be resolved by walking around a damaged partition.

You don't want Voyager 1 to reach more than 24 milliards of kilometres, it takes 22.5 hours to connect the radio signal to the spatial location and 22.5 additional hours to respond to the sound at the end. On the ground. The team therefore received the results of the matter on 3 March. On March 7, engineers began working to decrypt the data, and on March 10, they determined that it contained readable memory.

The team analyzes the reading. Using this information to design a potential solution and try to implement it will take some time.

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