February 23, 2024

NASA spacecraft sends out ‘a repeating pattern of ones and zeros’

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NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is having problems. Repair is a difficult task for NASA experts: the probe is too old and too far away.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has been traveling in space for more than 46 years and has traveled farther from Earth than any other spacecraft during that time. more than There are 24 billion kilometers between the probe and Earth. Voyager 1 has long since left the Sun’s sphere of influence, the so-called heliosphere, and is transmitting valuable scientific data from interstellar space outside our solar system.

But there is now growing concern about Voyager 1: instead of scientific data, the space probe is sending back only “a repetitive pattern of ones and zeros, as if stuck.” NASA says. The probe receives commands from Earth and carries them out – but instead of scientific data, it receives only incomprehensible binary code.

Illustration: NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in space. © Imago/Scientific Image Library

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft only sends incomprehensible data back to Earth

NASA experts already have suspicions about where the problem might lie: One of the three computers aboard Voyager 1, the Flight Data System (FDS), is not communicating properly with a subsystem called the Telemetry Modulation Unit (TMU), which is why Data is not sent to Earth. Last weekend, NASA experts tried to restart FDS and return it to the state before the problem began, but the probe still did not provide usable data, according to NASA.

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It may take several weeks for the Voyager 1 issue to be resolved now. This is due to the large distance between the space probe and the experts on Earth. The data sent to the probe takes 22.5 hours one way. This means: If the repair team sends a command to Voyager 1, it will take 45 hours for the probe’s response to reach Earth and for experts to check whether the command was executed correctly.

Voyager 1
September 5, 1977, 12:56 PM (UTC)
More than 24 billion kilometers
22 hours and 34 minutes
4 out of 10
Source: NASA

Voyager 1 is old and distant – NASA specialists need time to repair it

Another problem Voyager experts face is the age of the spacecraft. The Voyager probes were launched into space in 1977, and Voyager 2 is still active today. From the current perspective, the technology and programming on board are outdated. For each issue, teams must search through documents dating back decades. According to NASA, these words were written by engineers who did not anticipate today’s problems. Both probes were supposed to explore the solar system for five years, and at that time, no one expected them to continue working until 2023.

Since this isn’t the first time one of Voyager’s twin probes has had to be repaired in deep space, the team has already gained some experience. NASA emphasizes one thing above all: “The team needs time to understand how a new command will affect the operation of the spacecraft in order to avoid unintended consequences.” (unpaid bill)