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Voyager 1 probe has nine lives, is operating its four instruments once again

An artist’s concept of the Voyager spacecraft.
An artist’s concept of the Voyager spacecraft. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Having suffered through a tricky glitch, the incredible Voyager 1 spacecraft is now operational once again, with data coming in from all four of its current scientific instruments. The spacecraft is nearly 50 years old, having launched in 1977, and has long since traveled beyond the orbit of Pluto and out into interstellar space.

The recent issues with Voyager 1 began in November 2023, with a glitch affecting a system called the flight data subsystem (FDS). This is a piece of the spacecraft’s onboard computer system that is responsible for packaging up both the science data (data from the instruments) and engineering data (data about the spacecraft’s health) for transmission back to Earth. After months of investigation, the team discovered the problem was caused by a single chip that stores data for the FDS, so they worked out a way to store that data elsewhere on other systems.

That fix was implemented in April this year, and two of Voyager’s instruments came back online at that time: the plasma wave subsystem and magnetometer instrument. But two other instruments, the cosmic ray subsystem and low energy charged particle instrument, didn’t immediately work, so further tweaking had to be performed to get them running again. Now, all four of these instruments are operating for the first time in around six months.

That’s great news for the spacecraft, but the work isn’t finished yet. “Additional minor work is needed to clean up the effects of the issue,” NASA wrote in an update, specifying the need to perform tasks like resychronizing the timekeeping systems of the onboard computers and doing maintenance on the plasma wave instrument’s digital tape recorder.

Now, Voyager 1 will be able to continue its science investigations of the area of space beyond the direct influence of the sun, called interstellar space. Along with its twin probe, Voyager 2, it is the most distant man-made object in the universe, and the two are the only spacecraft to operate outside the heliosphere (the magnetic fields of the sun). Despite its age and extreme distance from Earth, which makes communications with the spacecraft very slow, it continues to perform valuable science like studying interstellar gas and observing energy bursts in interstellar space.

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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