NASA learns why Voyager-1 sent back gibberish

Engineers at NASA have pinpointed the cause behind the months-long issue with the Voyager-1 space probe beaming back unreadable data. A fix is on the way.

The space agency has confirmed that “a small portion of corrupted memory” in one of the onboard computers that run the decades-old spacecraft is behind the issue, which began in November 2023.

“Called the flight data subsystem (FDS), the computer is responsible for packaging the probe’s science and engineering data before the telemetry modulation unit (TMU) and radio transmitter send the data to Earth,” NASA said.

While Voyager-1 has never stopped beaming information back to Earth, its signal has contained no usable data since late last year. The first signs of hope for one of mankind’s two operational interstellar probes showed back in March after engineers sent a “poke” command to the probe and got back decodable data.

The readout of the transmission revealed that around 3% of the FDS memory had been corrupted, preventing the spacecraft from sending back meaningful data.

“The team suspects that a single chip responsible for storing part of the affected portion of the FDS memory isn’t working. Engineers can’t determine with certainty what caused the issue. Two possibilities are that the chip could have been hit by an energetic particle from space or that it simply may have worn out after 46 years,” NASA said.

While it might understandably take a few months to fix an issue in a probe whizzing 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) away from our home planet, scientists are optimistic they can find a way to patch it up.

Voyager-1, launched in 1977, is the farthest human-made object away from the Earth. For example, if flying at cruising speed, it would take a Boeing 737 around three thousand years to reach the point where Voyager-1 is right now.

While it only takes eight minutes for the Sun’s beams to reach our planet, it takes 22 hours for light, or radio signals, to travel from Earth to Voyager-1.

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