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posted by hubie on Saturday September 03 2022, @10:51AM   Printer-friendly
from the good-to-go-for-another-45-years dept.

NASA fixed the glitch that caused Voyager 1 to send back jumbled data:

Back in May, NASA reported that the Voyager 1 space probe was sending back jumbled or inaccurate telemetry data. The probe itself seemed to be in good shape, with a signal that's still strong enough to beam back information, and nothing was triggering its fault protection systems that would put it in "safe mode." According to NASA, the Voyager team has not only figured the problem out since then — it has also solved the issue.

Turns out we're getting jumbled data here on Earth, because the probe's attitude articulation and control system (AACS) has been sending back information through an onboard computer that had stopped working years ago. The computer was corrupting the data before it even went out. Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said that when her team suspected that this was the issue, they implemented a low-risk fix: They commanded the AACS to send its data through the probe's working computer again.

Engineers Investigating NASA's Voyager 1 Telemetry Data

Original Submission

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Engineers Investigating NASA’s Voyager 1 Telemetry Data 24 comments

While the spacecraft continues to return science data and otherwise operate as normal, the mission team is searching for the source of a system data issue:

The engineering team with NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is trying to solve a mystery: The interstellar explorer is operating normally, receiving and executing commands from Earth, along with gathering and returning science data. But readouts from the probe's attitude articulation and control system (AACS) don't reflect what's actually happening onboard.

The AACS controls the 45-year-old spacecraft's orientation. Among other tasks, it keeps Voyager 1's high-gain antenna pointed precisely at Earth, enabling it to send data home. All signs suggest the AACS is still working, but the telemetry data it's returning is invalid. For instance, the data may appear to be randomly generated, or does not reflect any possible state the AACS could be in.

[...] It's possible the team may not find the source of the anomaly and will instead adapt to it, Dodd said. If they do find the source, they may be able to solve the issue through software changes or potentially by using one of the spacecraft's redundant hardware systems.

At only 160 baud, I bet it takes quite a while to update the onboard software on NASA Patch Tuesdays.

Original Submission

Humanity's Most Distant Space Probe Jeopardized by Computer Glitch 14 comments

Voyager 1 is still alive out there, barreling into the cosmos more than 15 billion miles away. However, a computer problem has kept the mission's loyal support team in Southern California from knowing much more about the status of one of NASA's longest-lived spacecraft.

The computer glitch cropped up on November 14, and it affected Voyager 1's ability to send back telemetry data, such as measurements from the spacecraft's science instruments or basic engineering information about how the probe was doing. [...] "It would be the biggest miracle if we get it back. We certainly haven't given up," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an interview with Ars. "There are other things we can try. But this is, by far, the most serious since I've been project manager."

Dodd became the project manager for NASA's Voyager mission in 2010, overseeing a small cadre of engineers responsible for humanity's exploration into interstellar space. Voyager 1 is the most distant spacecraft ever, speeding away from the Sun at 38,000 mph (17 kilometers per second). [...] The latest problem with Voyager 1 lies in the probe's Flight Data Subsystem (FDS), one of three computers on the spacecraft working alongside a command-and-control central computer and another device overseeing attitude control and pointing. [...] In November, the data packages transmitted by Voyager 1 manifested a repeating pattern of ones and zeros as if it were stuck, according to NASA. Dodd said engineers at JPL have spent the better part of three months trying to diagnose the cause of the problem. She said the engineering team is "99.9 percent sure" the problem originated in the FDS, which appears to be having trouble "frame syncing" data. [...] "It's likely somewhere in the FDS memory," Dodd said. "A bit got flipped or corrupted. But without the telemetry, we can't see where that FDS memory corruption is."

[...] "We have sheets and sheets of schematics that are paper, that are all yellowed on the corners, and all signed in 1974," Dodd said. "They're pinned up on the walls and people are looking at them. That's a whole story in itself, just how to get to the information you need to be able to talk about the commanding decisions or what the problem might be." [...] "It is difficult to command Voyager," Dodd said. "We don't have any type of simulator for this. We don't have any hardware simulator. We don't have any software simulator... There's no simulator with the FDS, no hardware where we can try it on the ground first before we send it. So that makes people more cautious, and it's a balance between getting commanding right and taking risks."

[...] The spacecraft's vast distance and position in the southern sky require NASA to use the largest 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at a Deep Space Network tracking site in Australia, one of the network's most in-demand antennas.

"The data rates are very low, and this anomaly causes us not to have any telemetry," Dodd said. "We're kind of shooting in the blind a little bit because we don't know what the status of the spacecraft is completely."

Previously on SoylentNews:
Engineers Work to Fix Voyager 1 Computer - 20231215

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by drussell on Saturday September 03 2022, @01:54PM (9 children)

    by drussell (2678) on Saturday September 03 2022, @01:54PM (#1270052) Journal

    I find it amazing that they can still even send a command (at that whole, whopping 16 baud,) to Voyager 1 and have it even respond to that command at all, given the distance and degradation of equipment over time. The fact that anything is still functional on that spacecraft is quite a testament to the original design. The fact that it is also still even measuring some stuff and sending data back, some of the instrumentation is still functional and sending back usable data, is even more impressive.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by legont on Saturday September 03 2022, @04:36PM (2 children)

      by legont (4179) on Saturday September 03 2022, @04:36PM (#1270084)

      BTW, "they" is just one guy I believe and the position was open about 5-10 years ago.

      "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by drussell on Saturday September 03 2022, @05:08PM (1 child)

        by drussell (2678) on Saturday September 03 2022, @05:08PM (#1270090) Journal

        I think right now it actually seems to be mostly "gals," rather than guys...

        I keep seeing references to Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and Linda Spilker, Voyager’s deputy project scientist at JPL. Presumably there are also some more specialized people, at least as an on-and-off basis, like actual communications specialists, etc. and obviously also the operators of the Deep Space Network involved periodically.

        • (Score: 2) by legont on Sunday September 04 2022, @04:28AM

          by legont (4179) on Sunday September 04 2022, @04:28AM (#1270153)

          I was talking about the IT guy, not managers.

          "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by RS3 on Sunday September 04 2022, @02:45AM (5 children)

      by RS3 (6367) on Sunday September 04 2022, @02:45AM (#1270137)

      Yeah, it's super cool that they've kept the project alive, and well they should. I have much older electronics that work as well as ever. Electrolytic caps degrade, but those aside, I can't think of anything that has failed due to aging. That said, you would expect space radiation, charged particles, the nuclear generator on board, etc., would degrade it, so yeah, quite impressive. What ever happened to building things to last far longer than needed? (I know the answer...)

      What I'm impressed by is that someone still understands Voyager, commands, communication system and protocol, failure modes, recovery procedures, etc. I'd love to quietly observe how it's all done, what kinds of mockup / test systems they have, computer simulators (if any?). I'm sure they run through all possible scenarios before sending commands up. I'm also super impressed that the original design has safe modes.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Username on Sunday September 04 2022, @10:03PM (4 children)

        by Username (4557) on Sunday September 04 2022, @10:03PM (#1270255) []

        Looks like the RTG uses PU238 which is only an alpha emitter. So easy shielding. I'm guessing it's too far away in interstellar space to come across any significant sources of radiation, main risk was passing the planets/asteroids. If you ever need a reminder of how alone we are in the universe, Voyager hasn't picked up anything outside of our solar system.

        From what I remember from the nasa films I had to watch was failure due to thermal shock from soldering. Every ceramic cap had a thermal load limit, and you could only hit it once with an iron at the correct temp and a thermal sink on the part. Get it right the first time basically. Which was really different from the military style, where you would just go over everything multiple times with an iron and flux to make it shine.

        • (Score: 2) by RS3 on Monday September 05 2022, @12:10AM (2 children)

          by RS3 (6367) on Monday September 05 2022, @12:10AM (#1270273)

          Thanks for the info. I knew about the PU238 but didn't know it's mostly alpha emitting.

          Yeah, ceramic caps have a metal, maybe solder, coating on the actual ceramic substrate. I'm sure you know that lots of parts don't like a lot of heat. I'm pretty good with soldering, or so I think (!), but I remember people using little aluminum heatsink clips on component leads while soldering. Now entire circuit boards are cooked to flow the solder. Pretty impressive, we've come a long way, esp. since in my mind many of those parts should not survive, like tantalum / aluminum electrolytic caps.

          Would they have used silver-bearing solder, like the old 50s and 60s Tektronix scopes?

          • (Score: 3, Informative) by Username on Monday September 05 2022, @02:20AM (1 child)

            by Username (4557) on Monday September 05 2022, @02:20AM (#1270290)

            I think the main thing was microscopic cracks in the ceramic since its laminated in thin layers and expands at different rates. Those aluminum can caps take the longest to heat up. The reflow ovens have thermal profiles dialed in so well that it's just enough to melt the solder paste and have it flow for less than a second before solidifying. The big cans are giants heat sinks, the paste usually never fully wets on those since they never reach the same temps as the smaller components. Those are usually the parts that get hand soldered along with the big transformers.

            I've never come across anything requiring silver solder. Not sure what it would be used for. The only silver i've come across was a raytheon pcb that had silver nickel plating, but it was just the normal leaded solder on the board. It was tricky to inspect since the solder was the same color as the lands and pads. There was a cobham board I worked on that looked like a mirror. I didn't have access to the pcb info since it's above my pay grade, but I think that was chrome plated. Most of the stuff was gold plated. The weirdest part is we have to tin gold plated components to get rid of gold embrittlement, but the board itself, is gold.

        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday September 06 2022, @01:19AM

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday September 06 2022, @01:19AM (#1270413)

          Space *is* the source of most radiation - supernovas, black holes annihilating matter, and even more energetic mechanisms we can only speculate wildly about.

          At Earth's orbit roughly half the radiation comes from the sun, while the other half comes from the rest of the universe. And the stuff from the sun is relatively easy to shield against - it's the rest of the universe that supplies all the *really* dangerous stuff. Like atomic nuclei traveling at just under light speed, and single photons with the mass-energy of iron atoms. A lot of stuff you don't bother trying to shield against because it will make your radiation shielding fission into particle cascades far more dangerous to us than original.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 03 2022, @05:58PM (5 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 03 2022, @05:58PM (#1270094)

    Ctrl Alt Del, End Process. Run McAfee. Reboot.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04 2022, @11:11AM (4 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 04 2022, @11:11AM (#1270185)

      It was built before computer viruses were really a 'thing'. Back when people trusted neighbors enough that you could leave your backdoor unlocked at night. It's a pity those days are gone. Who moved in to make the world the way it is today? :(

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by datapharmer on Sunday September 04 2022, @11:49AM (1 child)

        by datapharmer (2702) on Sunday September 04 2022, @11:49AM (#1270189)

        That world you speak of never existed. Crime rates are down since the 1970s. You’d be better advised to leave your door unlocked now than you were then. The only thing that’s changed is your distrust in your neighbor.

        Reference: []

        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by maxwell demon on Sunday September 04 2022, @05:50PM

          by maxwell demon (1608) on Sunday September 04 2022, @05:50PM (#1270216) Journal

          The main reason to lock your door is not that it keeps the thieves out (most doors are easily broken by thieves), but that the insurance won't pay if you don't.

          So who moved in? The MBAs, that's who.

          The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 2) by Mykl on Sunday September 04 2022, @11:28PM (1 child)

        by Mykl (1112) on Sunday September 04 2022, @11:28PM (#1270264)

        News channels that discovered fear and paranoia are great ratings-boosters. That's who moved in.

        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday September 06 2022, @01:23AM

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday September 06 2022, @01:23AM (#1270414)


          As a rule, you shouldn't worry about anything you hear on the news.
          If it happened often enough to worry about, it wouldn't be newsworthy.