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posted by janrinok on Friday February 09, @05:18PM   Printer-friendly
from the d'oh! dept.

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

Related Stories

Reviewing Voyager Data Leads to New Discoveries 10 comments

The journal Nature has a story on new information obtained by re-processing Voyager2 data.

Erich Karkoschka, a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, chased down the new detail by comparing 1,600 images taken by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft during a flyby in 1986. “To me it felt like there was a new space mission to Uranus,” he said. “I applied new image-processing techniques so I could see features that other people couldn't see.”

This reprocessing has uncovered an unusual and unexpected rotational pattern in the atmosphere, which could give clues on the internal structure of the planet.

The story is also covered at Universe Today, and University of Arizona News.

There is a vast amount of raw data publicly available from NASA's National Space Science Data Center, and from the UAnews link:

Karkoschka's work illustrates the scientific value that can be gleaned from data that have been around for a long time, available to anyone with Internet access. He had similar success when he investigated 13-year-old Voyager images of Uranus’ surroundings and discovered the satellite Perdita.

Voyager 1 Rides 'Tsunami Wave' in Interstellar Space 20 comments - Voyager 1 Rides 'Tsunami Wave' in Interstellar Space

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft — the only object made by humans to reach interstellar space — might still be caught what scientists have described as a cosmic "tsunami wave," a shock wave that first hit the probe in February, according to new research. You can hear the eerie interstellar vibrations in a video, courtesy of NASA.

"Most people would have thought the interstellar medium would have been smooth and quiet," study researcher Don Gurnett, professor of physics at the University of Iowa, and the principal investigator of Voyager 1's plasma wave instrument, said in a statement from NASA. "But these shock waves seem to be more common than we thought."

The Oldest Computer (Not) on Earth 32 comments

When Allan Lasser went looking for the oldest computer used by the U.S. government, he found a surprising candidate: the Voyager probes.

When I started this project, I hadn't even considered that the oldest active computer might not even be on Earth. But after my first post, I received a few tips encouraging me to look at the computers onboard Voyager.

Benjamin Levy pointed out how, "the actual computers on board are probably older than [1977] because it takes time to design and build space probes and to certify their computers for their mission," and another tipster sent me a link to a story about the Voyager team needing to hire a new programmer with experience in FORTRAN.

I'll admit I was reluctant to pursue these computers at first, but I soon realized that it was silly to disqualify a government computer from this hunt simply because it's billions of miles away. While the hardware hasn't been upgraded since it left Earth, the software has been upgraded and maintained to meet new mission requirements. We're still in touch with these probes and they're still performing science at the edge of our solar system. Most important, these are government computers and they are both old and active.

How much computer infrastructure of today will be operable, let alone reliable in 40 years?

Original Submission

NASA's Voyager Mission Turns 40 11 comments

NASA's Voyager mission was launched 40 years ago:

NASA's historic Voyager mission has now been exploring the heavens for four decades.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft launched on Aug. 20, 1977, a few weeks before its twin, Voyager 1. Together, the two probes conducted an unprecedented "Grand Tour" of the outer solar system, beaming home up-close looks at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and many of the moons of these giant planets.

This work revealed a jaw-dropping diversity of worlds, fundamentally reshaping scientists' understanding of the solar system. And then the Voyagers kept on flying. In August 2012, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft ever to reach interstellar space — and Voyager 2 is expected to arrive in this exotic realm soon as well.

The rest of the article is a Q&A with Voyager project scientist and former director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ed Stone.

Also at BBC and NBC. Image gallery at Ars Technica. A PBS special about the mission will air on August 23.

No missions have been sent to Uranus or Neptune since Voyager 2 visited them in 1986 and 1989.

Related: Pioneer and Voyager Maps to Earth: How Much of a Mistake?
Voyager's 'Cosmic Map' Of Earth's Location Is Hopelessly Wrong

Original Submission

Voyager 1 Fires Up Trajectory Correction Maneuver Thrusters for the First Time in 37 Years 17 comments

NASA has used Voyager 1's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters in place of its attitude control thrusters. The move could extend the amount of time NASA can communicate with Voyager 1 by two to three years:

NASA scientists needed to reorient the 40-year-old Voyager 1 -- the space agency's farthest spacecraft -- so its antenna would point toward Earth, 13 billion miles away. But the "attitude control thrusters," the first option to make the spacecraft turn in space, have been wearing out.

So NASA searched for a Plan B, eventually deciding to try using four "trajectory correction maneuver" (TCM) thrusters, located on the back side of Voyager 1. But those thrusters had not been used in 37 years. NASA wasn't sure they'd work.

Tuesday, engineers fired up the thrusters and waited eagerly to find out whether the plan was successful. They got their answer 19 hours and 35 minutes later, the time it took for the results to reach Earth: The set of four thrusters worked perfectly. The spacecraft turned and the mood at NASA shifted to jubilation.

Also at

Original Submission

NASA Announces That Voyager 2 Has Exited the Heliosphere 50 comments

NASA's Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space

For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA's Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere - the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Members of NASA's Voyager team will discuss the findings at a news conference at 11 a.m. EST (8 a.m. PST) today at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in Washington. The news conference will stream live on the agency's website.

Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.

Voyager 2 now is slightly more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but information - moving at the speed of light - takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

Original Submission

Voyager 2 Reaches Interstellar Space 12 comments

The human race is now two for two with Voyager 2 being the second human made spacecraft to enter interstellar space.

The probe, which blasted into space 41 years ago, exited the outer boundary of the sun's heliosphere on Nov. 5, NASA scientists announced Monday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C. It is now more than 11 billion miles away from Earth.

The edge of the heliosphere is a pressure front of solar winds plasma originating from the sun, and is considered the boundary between stellar and interstellar space.

Because the heliopause marks the boundary between matter originating from the Sun and matter originating from the rest of the galaxy, spacecraft such as the two Voyagers, which have departed the heliosphere, can be said to have reached interstellar space.

Voyager 1 reached interstellar space in late August of 2012. Voyager 2, which was launched 16 days after it, has taken significantly longer to get there. This is because while both Voyagers flew past Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 1 immediately set out for the stars while Voyager 2 did flybys of Uranus and Neptune first.

Fortunately Voyager 2's plasma science instrument remains functioning (the one on Voyager 1 broke in the 1980s) so additional data was captured on this transition.

They still have a very long way to go before they leave the solar system. NASA estimates it could take 30,000 years for Voyager 2 to fly all the way through the Oort Cloud, a spherical shell of icy objects that scientists believe is a source of many comets. Only then will the solar system be in Voyager 2's rearview mirror.

They won't realize it however. Power on the two spacecraft will be exhausted in another 5-10 years at which point they will become as dark and cold as last week's coffee.

Original Submission

Future Stellar Flybys of the Voyager and Pioneer Spacecraft 14 comments

Following their encounters with the outer planets in the 1970s and 1980s, Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2 are now on escape trajectories out of the solar system. Although they will cease to operate long before encountering any stars (the Pioneers already have), it is nonetheless interesting to ask which stars they will pass closest to in the next few million years. We answer this here using the accurate 3D positions and 3D velocities of 7.2 million stars in the second Gaia data release (GDR2, Gaia Collaboration 2018), supplemented with radial velocities for 222,000 additional stars obtained from Simbad.3

We adopt the same method we used for tracing the possible origin (and future encounters) of the interstellar object 'Oumuamua (Bailer-Jones et al. 2018a). We determine the asymptotic trajectories of the four spacecraft by starting from their ephemerides from JPL's Horizons system,4 propagating them numerically to the year 2900, and then extrapolating to the asymptote. Using a linear motion approximation we then identify those stars which approach within 15 pc of each spacecraft (~4500 stars in each case). Finally, we integrate the orbits of these stars and the spacecraft through a Galactic potential and identify close encounters. Statistics of the encounter time, separation, and velocity are obtained by resampling the covariance of the stellar data and integrating the orbits of the resulting samples. The uncertainties on the asymptotic spacecraft trajectories are negligible compared to those of the stars, and are therefore neglected.

Meanwhile, Fox gives us the following:

....the next star that Voyager 1 will pass will be Earth's nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, in 16,700 years. However, this encounter will be unremarkable, as the craft's closest approach will be 1.1 parsecs (pc) from the star, which equates to 3.59 light-years — very, very far away. In fact, Voyager 1 is currently 1.3 pc (4.24 light-years) from the star, so this encounter won't be much closer than the craft's current location is. (Earth's sun is 1.29 pc, or 4.24 light-years, away from Proxima Centauri.)

Voyager 2 and Pioneer 11's next close encounters will also be with Proxima Centauri, while Pioneer 10's next flyby will be with the star Ross 248, a small star 10.3 light-years from Earth in the constellation Andromeda.

Original Submission

Voyager 2 Returning to Normal Operation 21 comments

After going into Fault Protection Mode on January 28th, Voyager 2 will soon return to normal operation.

On January 25th, Voyager 2 was instructed to perform a magnetometer calibration maneuver which would cause the spacecraft to rotate itself a full 360 degrees, however the maneuver was delayed causing two power hungry systems to be on simultaneously. The maneuver was not completed.

There's a tight power budget on Voyager 2, because its radioisotope thermoelectric generators are running down. To protect itself, the spacecraft went into its fault-protection mode. In that mode, it shut down scientific instruments to make up for the power deficit. By January 28th, engineers had successfully shut down one of the two high-power-drawing systems, and turned its science instruments back on.

The probe is currently approximately 18.5 billion kilometers from Earth, with a time lag of 34 hours for signals to make a round trip.

Voyager 2 is still running, but its power situation is precarious. Mission engineers are constantly evaluating the status of the power system, and they know that it's losing about 4% of its power each year. A lot of power is needed to keep systems on the spacecraft from freezing, including fuel lines. If those lines froze, and broke, then Voyager 2 would no longer be able to point its antenna towards Earth, and the mission would effectively be over.

NASA Tweeted the following regarding the issue

An update on our twin @NASAVoyager spacecraft, still operating in interstellar space. After software designed to automatically protect it was triggered, engineers successfully turned Voyager 2's science instruments back on. Normal operations resume soon:

        — NASA (@NASA) January 30, 2020

In the past NASA has indicated Voyager 2 will go dark in 'roughly 2020' so even though this isn't the end for the spacecraft, it is not far off.

Original Submission

Voyager 1's Pale Blue Dot 4 comments

Voyager 1's Pale Blue Dot (1990)

Voyager 1's Pale Blue Dot (1990):

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of Earth taken Feb. 14, 1990, by NASA’s Voyager 1 at a distance of 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from the Sun. The image inspired the title of scientist Carl Sagan's book, "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space," in which he wrote: "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us."

[...] Voyager 1 was speeding out of the solar system — beyond Neptune and about 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from the Sun — when mission managers commanded it to look back toward home for a final time. It snapped a series of 60 images that were used to create the first “family portrait” of our solar system.

The picture that would become known as the Pale Blue Dot shows Earth within a scattered ray of sunlight. Voyager 1 was so far away that — from its vantage point — Earth was just a point of light about a pixel in size.

Revisiting Decades-Old Voyager 2 Data, Scientists Find One More Secret About Uranus 17 comments

Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:

Eight and a half years into its grand tour of the solar system, NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft was ready for another encounter. It was Jan. 24, 1986, and soon it would meet the mysterious seventh planet, icy-cold Uranus.

Over the next few hours, Voyager 2 flew within 50,600 miles (81,433 kilometers) of Uranus' cloud tops, collecting data that revealed two new rings, 11 new moons and temperatures below minus 353 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 214 degrees Celsius). The dataset is still the only up-close measurements we have ever made of the planet.

Three decades later, scientists reinspecting that data found one more secret.

Unbeknownst to the entire space physics community, 34 years ago Voyager 2 flew through a plasmoid, a giant magnetic bubble that may have been whisking Uranus's atmosphere out to space. The finding, reported in Geophysical Research Letters, raises new questions about the planet's one-of-a-kind magnetic environment.

[...] Readings from inside the plasmoid — as Voyager 2 flew through it — hinted at its origins. Whereas some plasmoids have a twisted internal magnetic field, DiBraccio and Gershman observed smooth, closed magnetic loops. Such loop-like plasmoids are typically formed as a spinning planet flings bits of its atmosphere to space. "Centrifugal forces take over, and the plasmoid pinches off," Gershman said. According to their estimates, plasmoids like that one could account for between 15 and 55% of atmospheric mass loss at Uranus, a greater proportion than either Jupiter or Saturn. It may well be the dominant way Uranus sheds its atmosphere to space.

How has plasmoid escape changed Uranus over time? With only one set of observations, it's hard to say.

"Imagine if one spacecraft just flew through this room and tried to characterize the entire Earth," DiBraccio said. "Obviously it's not going to show you anything about what the Sahara or Antarctica is like."

But the findings help focus new questions about the planet. The remaining mystery is part of the draw. "It's why I love planetary science," DiBraccio said. "You're always going somewhere you don't really know."

More information: Gina A. DiBraccio et al. Voyager 2 constraints on plasmoid‐based transport at Uranus, Geophysical Research Letters (2019). DOI: 10.1029/2019GL083909

Original Submission

Five NASA Spacecraft That are Leaving Our Solar System for Good 9 comments

5 NASA Spacecraft That Are Leaving Our Solar System for Good:

For millennia, humans have gazed up at the stars and wondered what it would be like to journey to them. And while sending astronauts beyond the solar system remains a distant dream, humanity has already launched five robotic probes that are on paths to interstellar space.

Each of these craft was primarily designed to explore worlds in the outer solar system. But when they finished their jobs, their momentum continued to carry them farther from the Sun. Astronomers knew their ultimate fate was to live among the distant stars. And that's why all but one of these spacecraft carries a message for any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find it along the way.

They are:

  • Pioneer 10
  • Pioneer 11
  • Voyager 1
  • Voyager 2
  • New Horizons

Original Submission

Voyager Spacecraft Detect an Increase in the Density of Space Outside the Solar System 12 comments

Voyager Spacecraft Detect an Increase in The Density of Space Outside The Solar System:

In November 2018, after an epic, 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 finally crossed the boundary that marked the limit of the Sun's influence and entered interstellar space. But the little probe's mission isn't done yet - it's now sending home information about the space beyond the Solar System.

And it's revealing something surprising. As Voyager 2 moves farther and farther from the Sun, the density of space is increasing.

It's not the first time this density increase has been detected. Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, detected a similar density gradient at a separate location.

Voyager 2's new data show that not only was Voyager 1's detection legit, but that the increase in density may be a large-scale feature of the very local interstellar medium (VLIM).

[...] One theory is that the interstellar magnetic field lines become stronger as they drape over the heliopause. This could generate an electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability that depletes the plasma from the draping region. Voyager 2 did detect a stronger magnetic field than expected when it crossed the heliopause.

Another theory is that material blown by the interstellar wind should slow as it reaches the heliopause, causing a sort of traffic jam. This has possibly been detected by outer Solar System probe New Horizons, which in 2018 picked up the faint ultraviolet glow resulting from a buildup of neutral hydrogen at the heliopause.

It's also possible that both explanations play a role. Future measurements taken by both Voyager probes as they continue their journey out into interstellar space could help figure it out. But that might be a long bet to take.

"It is not certain," the researchers wrote in their paper, "whether the Voyagers will be able to operate far enough to distinguish between these two classes of models."

Original Submission

NASA Calls Voyager 2, and the Spacecraft Answers from Interstellar Space 8 comments

Ars Technica has word from the most distant human artifact.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft has been gone from Earth for more than 43 years, and it now lies 125 astronomical units from our planet. That is 125 times the distance between the Earth and Sun.

Understandably, this distance makes it rather difficult for NASA to communicate with its far-flung spacecraft—there is a time delay of more than 17 hours. However, with Voyager 2, there is another complication in talking to the spacecraft.

After flying by Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, Voyager 2 made its final planetary flyby in August 1989 past Neptune. Scientists were also interested in flying by Neptune's intriguing moon Triton, so they commanded Voyager 2 to do so on its way beyond Neptune, flying over the north pole of Triton. This trajectory carried it along a southward path relative to the plane of the Solar System, and it has kept on booking it south.

This has consequences for communicating with NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth, which consists of three large radio antenna facilities around the world, in California, Spain, and Australia. Typically, this geographical spread allows for all of NASA's spacecraft still active to have the capability to communicate with at least one of these facilities at all times.

But because Voyager 2 has dipped so far south of the plane of the Solar System, it can now only communicate by line of sight with the 70-meter-wide antenna in Canberra, Australia. Because this facility is about five decades old, it needed to undergo refurbishment and upgrade work beginning in March, and it had been offline since that time. This work is expected to conclude in February, so NASA has been unable to send signals to Voyager 2 since that time.

Must have been that left turn at Albuquerque.

Voyager Spacecraft Detect an Increase in the Density of Space Outside the Solar System

Original Submission

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

Record-Breaking Voyager Spacecraft Begin to Power Down 27 comments

Imagine that you built something that even the most optimistic person thought would last 4-5 years, and yet almost 45 years later it is still carrying out the task of discovering the secrets of our solar system and beyond. And they, for there are two of them, are not quite finished yet. This is a remarkable story. [JR]

Record-Breaking Voyager Spacecraft Begin to Power Down:

If the stars hadn't aligned, two of the most remarkable spacecraft ever launched never would have gotten off the ground. In this case, the stars were actually planets—the four largest in the solar system. Some 60 years ago they were slowly wheeling into an array that had last occurred during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson in the early years of the 19th century. For a while the rare planetary set piece unfolded largely unnoticed. The first person to call attention to it was an aeronautics doctoral student at the California Institute of Technology named Gary Flandro.

It was 1965, and the era of space exploration was barely underway—the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, only eight years earlier. Flandro, who was working part-time at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., had been tasked with finding the most efficient way to send a space probe to Jupiter or perhaps even out to Saturn, Uranus or Neptune. Using a favorite precision tool of 20th-century engineers—a pencil—he charted the orbital paths of those giant planets and discovered something intriguing: in the late 1970s and early 1980s, all four would be strung like pearls on a celestial necklace in a long arc with Earth.

This coincidence meant that a space vehicle could get a speed boost from the gravitational pull of each giant planet it passed, as if being tugged along by an invisible cord that snapped at the last second, flinging the probe on its way. Flandro calculated that the repeated gravity assists, as they are called, would cut the flight time between Earth and Neptune from 30 years to 12. There was just one catch: the alignment happened only once every 176 years. To reach the planets while the lineup lasted, a spacecraft would have to be launched by the mid-1970s.

As it turned out, NASA would build two space vehicles to take advantage of that once-in-more-than-a-lifetime opportunity. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, identical in every detail, were launched within 15 days of each other in the summer of 1977. After nearly 45 years in space, they are still functioning, sending data back to Earth every day from beyond the solar system's most distant known planets. They have traveled farther and lasted longer than any other spacecraft in history. And they have crossed into interstellar space, according to our best understanding of the boundary between the sun's sphere of influence and the rest of the galaxy. They are the first human-made objects to do so, a distinction they will hold for at least another few decades. Not a bad record, all in all, considering that the Voyager missions were originally planned to last just four years.

NASA Fixed the Glitch that Caused Voyager 1 to Send Back Jumbled Data 16 comments

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

The Farthest-away Pictures of Earth Ever Taken 7 comments

Our precious planet seen from deep space:

NASA's exploration robots have rumbled around Mars, swooped around Saturn, and flown well beyond the planets, into interstellar space.

But the space agency's engineers often direct their machines to peer back at the vivid blue dot in the distance.

"During almost every mission we turn around and take a picture back home," NASA's former chief historian, Bill Barry, told Mashable. "There seems to be an irresistible tendency to look back at home."

Indeed, in the cosmic images below you'll glimpse some of the farthest-away views of our humble, ocean-blanketed world ever captured by humanity. When we view other objects, worlds, stars, or even galaxies, we often see just dots. But to most of the cosmos, we're just a dot in the vast ether, too.

The article has nice images of the Earth and Moon taken by OSIRIS-REx, Earth as seen from the surface of Mars, a video flyby of the Earth and Moon by the Juno spacecraft, and a beautiful shot of Earth looking back with Saturnian rings in the view by Cassini, all reminding us of Carl Sagan's famous Pale Blue Dot where he observed:

To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Original Submission

NASA Back in Touch With Voyager 2 After 'Interstellar Shout' 7 comments

NASA back in touch with Voyager 2 after 'interstellar shout':

NASA has succeeded in re-establishing full contact with Voyager 2 by using its highest-power transmitter to send an "interstellar shout" that righted the distant probe's antenna orientation, the space agency said Friday.

Launched in 1977 to explore the outer planets and serve as a beacon of humanity to the wider universe, it is currently more than 12.3 billion miles (19.9 billion kilometers) from our planet—well beyond the solar system.

A series of planned commands sent to the spaceship on July 21 mistakenly caused the antenna to point two degrees away from Earth, compromising its ability to send and receive signals and endangering its mission.

The situation was not expected to be resolved until at least October 15 when Voyager 2 was scheduled to carry out an automated realignment maneuver.

But on Tuesday, engineers enlisted the help of multiple Earth observatories that form the Deep Space Network (DSN) to detect a carrier or "heartbeat" wave from Voyager 2, though the signal was still too faint to read the data it carried.

In a new update on Friday, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which built and operates the probe, said it had succeeded in a longshot effort to send instructions that righted the craft.

"The Deep Space Network used the highest-power transmitter to send the command (the 100-kw S-band uplink from the Canberra site) and timed it to be sent during the best conditions during the antenna tracking pass in order to maximize possible receipt of the command by the spacecraft," Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd told AFP.

This so-called "interstellar shout" required 18.5 hours traveling at light speed to reach Voyager, and it took 37 hours for mission controllers to learn whether the command worked, JPL said in a statement.

The probe began returning science and telemetry data at 12:29 am Eastern Time on August 4, "indicating it is operating normally and that it remains on its expected trajectory," added JPL.

Previously: NASA Mistakenly Severs Communication to Voyager 2

Original Submission

Engineers Work to Fix Voyager 1 Computer 3 comments

NASA's veteran Voyager 1 spacecraft has stopped transmitting engineering and science data back to Earth.

The issue appears to be with the Flight Data System (FDS), which is not communicating correctly with one of the probe's subsystems - the Telemetry Modulation Unit (TMU).

Rather than useful data, the TMU is simply transmitting a repeating pattern of ones and zeroes as if it were "stuck," according to NASA.

The FDS is responsible for collecting data from Voyager 1's science instruments as well as on the general health of the spacecraft. This is all packaged up and sent back to Earth by the TMU. Having worked through the possibilities, the Voyager team reckons the issue lies with 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 [sic] data," NASA says.

Engineers face multiple challenges. First, the Voyagers are famously old – dealing with their quirks involves poring through decades-old documents. Commands sent to the probes must be meticulously verified to prevent unintended consequences.

And then there is the sheer amount of time it takes to communicate with the Voyagers. A command from mission control on Earth will take more than 22 hours to reach Voyager 1. It can, therefore, take 45 hours to determine whether a given instruction worked as expected.

NASA reckons it will be several weeks of work for engineers to devise a new plan to deal with the problem.

Voyager 1 suffered a telemetry glitch in 2022 that resulted in garbled data on the probe's attitude being sent back to Earth. That issue was resolved by switching to a different computer. However, in that instance, Voyager 1 continued returning science data. The latest problem has stopped that.

The next time you find yourself having to diagnose and fix a problem remotely, remember that it could always be worse, even if sometimes it feels as though that misbehaving server is also 15 billion(*) miles away.

Given the limit imposed by the speed of light, a signal sent to Voyager 1 and immediately returned takes more than 16.6 hours. That's more than 2/3 of a *day*!

Original Submission

NASA Is Still Fighting To Save Its Historic Voyager 1 Spacecraft 12 comments

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

For more than 45 years, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has been cruising through the cosmos, crossing the boundary of our solar system to become the first human-made object to venture to interstellar space. Iconic in every regard, Voyager 1 has delivered groundbreaking data on Jupiter and Saturn, and captured the loneliest image of Earth. But perhaps nothing is lonelier than an aging spacecraft that has lost its ability to communicate while traveling billions of miles away from home.

NASA’s Voyager 1 has been glitching for months, sending nonsensical data to ground control. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have been trying to resolve the issue, but given how far the spacecraft currently is, the process has been extremely slow. Things are looking pretty bleak for the aging mission, which might be nearing the end. Still, NASA isn’t ready to let go of its most distant spacecraft just yet.

“The team continues information gathering and are preparing some steps that they’re hopeful will get them on a path to either understand the root of the problem and/or solve it,” a JPL spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email.

The anomaly may have something to do with the spacecraft’s flight data system (FDS). FDS collects data from Voyager’s science instruments, as well as engineering data about the health of the spacecraft and combines them into a single package that’s transmitted to Earth through one of the probe’s subsystems, the telemetry modulation unit (TMU), in binary code.

FDS and TMU, however, may be having trouble communicating with one another. As a result, TMU has been sending data to mission control in a repeating pattern of ones and zeroes.

    Humanity's Most Distant Space Probe Jeopardized by Computer Glitch
    Engineers Work to Fix Voyager 1 Computer

Original Submission

Voyager-1 is Back Online 24 comments

The 46-year-old Nasa spacecraft is humanity's most distant object.

A computer fault stopped it returning readable data in November but engineers have now fixed this.

For the moment, Voyager is sending back only health data about its onboard systems, but further work should get the scientific instruments back online.

Voyager-1 is more than 24 billion km (15 billion miles) away, so distant, its radio messages take fully 22.5 hours to reach us.

"Voyager-1 spacecraft is returning usable data about the health and status of its onboard engineering systems," Nasa said in a statement.

"The next step is to enable the spacecraft to begin returning science data again."

[...] A corrupted chip has been blamed for the ageing spacecraft's recent woes.

This prevented Voyager's computers from accessing a vital segment of software code used to package information for transmission to Earth.

For a period of time, engineers could get no sense whatsoever out of Voyager, even though they could tell the spacecraft was still receiving their commands and otherwise operating normally.

The issue was resolved by shifting the affected code to different locations in the memory of the probe's computers.

    NASA Knows What Knocked Voyager 1 Offline, but It Will Take a While to Fix
    Voyager 1 Starts Making Sense Again After Months of Babble
    Humanity's Most Distant Space Probe Jeopardized by Computer Glitch

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 4, Funny) by Tork on Friday February 09, @05:45PM (2 children)

    by Tork (3914) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 09, @05:45PM (#1343748)

    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."

    Sounds like someone's gonna have to go aboard and key the last sequence manually. Preferably someone who'd rather do that than command a starship.

    🏳️‍🌈 Proud Ally 🏳️‍🌈
    • (Score: 2, Touché) by Runaway1956 on Friday February 09, @07:21PM (1 child)

      by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 09, @07:21PM (#1343764) Journal

      You beat me to it. Send some junior intern on his spring break, right?

      ‘Never trust a man whose uncle was eaten by cannibals’
      • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Monday February 12, @03:08PM

        by Freeman (732) on Monday February 12, @03:08PM (#1344092) Journal

        If you're that junior intern, make sure they didn't pack you any red shirts.

        Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
  • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by VLM on Friday February 09, @05:52PM (7 children)

    by VLM (445) on Friday February 09, @05:52PM (#1343749)

    "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."

    Because its closed source. Pretty much every 50s/60s/70s and most 80s computer systems have some hobbyist who thought it would be fun to take public documentation and make an emulator. So you can run RSX-11, MVS360, IBSYS, all kinds of crazy stuff if you want, not just "modern" stuff like CPM or emulated games. But not space probes, that's all secret, so good luck guys.

    Government software is corrupt as hell and generally the govt pays someone to write software the govt uses but the govt never owns. Following that pattern AFAIK (I could be wrong or out of date) all voyager engineering data is copyright by Caltech and is NOT free and will be destroyed (if it hasn't already been wiped) before copyright on the data runs out (if copyright is ever permitted to run out on 60s and 70s stuff)

    I looked into this stuff in the distant past and their problem is entirely their own damn fault. Well technically their grandparents and parents made the mistake and they're paying the price, but nothing new about that. A situation like the Apollo computer software being available is an anomaly in govt not at all a general rule.

    The irony of course is the taxpayers paid for it but are not allowed access. And the problem is always hand waved away as "it was a long time ago involving tons of people, and no individual droplet of water thinks it caused a flood anyway"

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Friday February 09, @06:12PM (5 children)

      by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Friday February 09, @06:12PM (#1343752)

      You're an idiot.

      • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by VLM on Friday February 09, @06:57PM (2 children)

        by VLM (445) on Friday February 09, @06:57PM (#1343760)

        I know a guy who knows a guy, who sent NASA a FOIA on this exact topic, not probes in general but the voyager probe specifically, and NASA pretty much politely told him to F off, so if I'm wrong about the Voyager firmware and processor docs, feel free to provide a link to the github, LOL.

        • (Score: 4, Touché) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Friday February 09, @07:06PM

          by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Friday February 09, @07:06PM (#1343763)

          You're throwing a hissy fit for software that was written 50 years ago, that people of a different generation somehow still manage to service from billions of miles away. Talk about barking up the wrong tree.

          How about the US government throwing billions at Microsoft to run their cloud services for instance? Is that not closed-enough source code funded by today's taxpayers' money for you?

          The Voyager missions went above and beyond and that stuff is still ongoing. Your unhinged rant about stuff that coulda-shoulda been from half a century ago is ridiculous.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by drussell on Friday February 09, @10:04PM

          by drussell (2678) on Friday February 09, @10:04PM (#1343779) Journal

          I take it you haven't seen the extensive work that CuriousMarc [] and team have been doing resurrecting various Apollo hardware?! 🙄

          I realize that's not the Voyager systems, but really?! That's some serious hostility you've got going on over there! Wow!

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, @09:54PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, @09:54PM (#1343775)

        "You're an idiot."

        Spoken like someone who has never tried to get software out of NASA

        Look into NASA's COSMIC software collection.
        Written with public money, administered by Georgia Tech for years who
        wanted absurdly high amounts of money for it (especially NASTRAN)

        • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Monday February 12, @03:14PM

          by Freeman (732) on Monday February 12, @03:14PM (#1344093) Journal

          That's water under the bridge. Though, it sure wouldn't hurt to avoid those kinds of situations in the future. Then again, the future looks like the USA renting launches from the private sector. Which is it's own can of worms. SpaceX has made a laughingstock of the Space program that's been "working" for the last 50 years, though. The people that had just finished going to the Moon thought they'd see Mars next in their life time. Most of them are dead now.

          Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"
    • (Score: 2, Touché) by Tork on Friday February 09, @06:37PM

      by Tork (3914) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 09, @06:37PM (#1343756)

      ...and no individual droplet of water thinks it caused a flood anyway.

      Heh. "The dam burst!" "Stupid water!!"

      🏳️‍🌈 Proud Ally 🏳️‍🌈
  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Mojibake Tengu on Friday February 09, @07:43PM

    by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Friday February 09, @07:43PM (#1343766) Journal'ger []

    ...amassed knowledge to such a degree as to become self-aware

    Respect Authorities. Know your social status. Woke responsibly.
  • (Score: 4, Funny) by EJ on Saturday February 10, @03:13AM (1 child)

    by EJ (2452) on Saturday February 10, @03:13AM (#1343802)

    I can't believe such bad design mistakes are still happening in 2024. Haven't we learned anything?

    Seems like the people who designed this thing had no thoughts about reliability. They all need to be fired.

    • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Monday February 12, @03:25PM

      by Freeman (732) on Monday February 12, @03:25PM (#1344096) Journal

      From the article:

      When it was developed five decades ago, Voyager's Flight Data Subsystem was an innovation in computing. It was the first computer on a spacecraft to make use of volatile memory. Each Voyager spacecraft launched with two FDS computers, but Voyager 1's backup FDS failed in 1981, according to Dodd.

      Also: []

      To accomplish their two-planet mission, the spacecraft were built to last five years.

      5 years + over 35 years, seems like a nice run.

      Joshua 1:9 "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee"