May 14, 2024 at 3:26 pm

NASA’S Out Of The Box Thinking Brings Voyager Probe Back Online

by Trisha Leigh

Source: NASA/JPL

We know that the people who work at NASA are some of the smartest and most educated people in the world.

And you know, you can’t put a price on being able to think on your feet.

NASA’s 46yo Voyager 1 spacecraft went offline for more than five months, but after some “inventive sleuthing,” the team at the Jet Propulsion Lab has it sending back usable data.

This probe, along with its twin Voyager 2, are the only two spacecraft to reach interstellar space. In November of 2023, it began sending back incomprehensible code.

They managed to trace the issue back to the flight data subsystem (FDS), which packages scientific and engineering data before it gets sent back to Earth.

Source: NASA/JPL

Given the spacecraft’s age and long-term prospects, the fact that this clever hack worked at all is something of a miracle.

They discovered a piece of the subsystem’s memory was out of order, which made the data all but useless. They couldn’t move the affected code around, because it was too large to be stored elsewhere.

Their solution? Slicing up the affected code into sections so they could store it in different places in the FDS.

Source: NASA/JPL

This was not a quick process, given that Voyager 1 is over 15 billion miles away, and a signal takes 45 hours to get there and back.

“During the coming weeks, the team will relocate and adjust the other affected portions of the FDS software. These include the portions that will start returning science data.”

They’re thrilled at being able to check on the spacecraft’s health and status once again, no matter how long it lasts.

It’s pretty amazing technology if you think about it.

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