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NASA’s Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, is doing science again after problem

NASA’s Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, is sending science data again.

Voyager 1’s four instruments are back in business after a computer problem in November, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said this week. The team first received meaningful information again from Voyager 1 in April, and recently commanded it to start studying its environment again.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is drifting through interstellar space, or the space between star systems. Before reaching this region, the spacecraft discovered a thin ring around Jupiter and several of Saturn’s moons. Its instruments are designed to collect information about plasma waves, magnetic fields and particles.

Voyager 1 is over 15 billion miles (24.14 kilometers) from Earth. Its twin Voyager 2—also in interstellar space—is more than 12 billion miles (19.31 kilometers) miles away.

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is conducting normal science operations for the first time following a technical issue that arose in November 2023.

The team partially resolved the issue in April when they prompted the spacecraft to begin returning engineering data, which includes information about the health and status of the spacecraft. On May 19, the mission team executed the second step of that repair process and beamed a command to the spacecraft to begin returning science data.

Two of the four science instruments returned to their normal operating modes immediately. Two other instruments required some additional work, but now, all four are returning usable science data.

The four instruments study plasma waves, magnetic fields, and particles. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are the only spacecraft to directly sample interstellar space, which is the region outside the heliosphere—the protective bubble of magnetic fields and solar wind created by the sun.

While Voyager 1 is back to conducting science, additional minor work is needed to clean up the effects of the issue. Among other tasks, engineers will resynchronize timekeeping software in the spacecraft’s three onboard computers so they can execute commands at the right time.

The team will also perform maintenance on the digital tape recorder, which records some data for the plasma wave instrument that is sent to Earth twice per year. (Most of the Voyagers’ science data is sent directly to Earth and not recorded.)

Voyager 1 is more than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth, and Voyager 2 is more than 12 billion miles (20 billion kilometers) from the planet. The probes will mark 47 years of operations later this year. They are NASA’s longest-running and most-distant spacecraft. Both spacecraft flew past Jupiter and Saturn, while Voyager 2 also flew past Uranus and Neptune.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. ……”Voyager 1 is more than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth, and Voyager 2 is more than 12 billion miles (20 billion kilometers) from the planet”……

    Strange. No word on whether they’d caught up with God yet.

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  2. So in 1977 they where able to create communications that is still in range 20 to 24 billion km away yet in 2024 we have cell phones that require repeaters/boosters every km or 2 apart to work. Somethings a bit fishy there

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    • It’s one very weak signal with a highly directional antenna, without 5 billion other signals on the same wavelength, let alone 54 Billion signals on nearby wavelengths, and each signal has a round trip time of 2 days. If you are phoning 111 because you baby is choking and turning blue, you’ll be holding the funeral before 111 responds “111, what is your emergency?”.

      “While you are passing the Milky Way, and you send back some cream for my porridge?”

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