According to the Voyager-1 science team, the probe has developed a problem with one of its three onboard computers, called the flight data system (FDS), that is preventing it from sending back useable data.
Among other things, the FDS is designed to collect data from the science instruments as well as engineering data about the health and status of the spacecraft. It then combines that information into a single data “package” to be sent back to Earth by the TMU. The data is in the form of ones and zeros, or binary code. Varying combinations of the two numbers are the basis of all computer language.
Recently, the TMU began transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeros as if it were “stuck.” After ruling out other possibilities, the Voyager team determined that the source of the issue is the FDS. This past weekend the team tried to restart the FDS and return it to the state it was in before the issue began, but the spacecraft still isn’t returning useable data.
Engineers are trouble-shooting the problem, and expect it will take several weeks at best to identify and then fix the issue. The 22-hour travel time for communications to reach the spacecraft, now beyond the edge of the solar system more than 15 billion miles away, means that it will at minimum take about two days to find out if a transmitted fix works.
As the spacecraft was launched in 1977, most of the engineers now working on it were not even born then, and must deal with a technology that was designed before personal computers, no less smart phones, even existed. Like the entire 1960s space race, the two Voyager craft now beyond the solar system were built by engineers using slide rules.
Voyager-2 also had problems in August that engineers were able to fix, so the prognosis here is not bad.
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