Voyager 1 Talks Some Nonsense, But Is Still Working

The Voyager 1 interplanetary probe was launched in 1977 and has now reached interstellar space where it is the furthest-traveled man-made object. It’s hugely exceeded its original mission and continues to return valuable scientific data, but there’s an apparent fault which is leaving its controllers perplexed. Onboard is an attitude control system which keeps the craft’s antennas pointing at Earth, and while it evidently still works (as we’re still in touch with the probe) and other systems are fine, it’s started returning incomprehensible data. Apparently it’s developed a habit of reporting random data, or states the antenna can’t possibly be in.

That a 45 year old computer is still working at all is testament to the skills of its designers, and at 14.5 billion miles away a repair is impossible however much we’d be fascinated to know about the failure modes of old electronics in space.  It’s postulated that they might simply live with the fault if the system is still working, issue a software fix, or find some way to use one of the craft’s redundant systems to avoid the problem. Meanwhile we can rest easily in our beds, because we’re still a couple of centuries away from its return as a giant alien sentient machine.

We’ve featured the Voyager program a few times before here at Hackaday, not least when we took a close look at one of its instruments.

Thanks [Jon Woodcock] for the tip.

37 thoughts on “Voyager 1 Talks Some Nonsense, But Is Still Working

    1. I think its just got bored, and is sending wonky to see if anybody is still paying attention. Its been out there for a long time, and there hasn’t really been much to do for much of it…

      1. And I agree. Look at the Galileo probe. There was only so much the group could test down here, they needed to pack that one up and send the bird out. And there may be others in the constellation of satellites we’ve launched over the years. Of all of the big names, the Voyager pair top them, followed by the Pioneer ones.

  1. The Voyager twins were built with redundancy.
    Some if not all systems are installed three times each.
    I’m not sure if this applies to the Attitude Articulation and Control System (AACS), as well, though.
    But since it’s still performs its task fine, maybe the damage is fixable or there’s a workaround.
    Maybe it’s also related to hard radiation and the data recorders that perform compression of data, not sure. I’m just a layman, after all. Anyway, it’s still impressive that the Voyagers are so durable. They simply refuse to give up despite all odds. My deepest respect for them, their creators, the team and the kids that continue their work.

  2. I am proud that humans have accomplished this feat. Garbled data or not, I am still proud of EVERYBODY who had a hand in this. I remember this launching as a young teenager. I was proud then and still proud today.

    I am proud of those from the past such as Newton, Galileo, von Braun, and MANY OTHERS, whose work(s) made this event even possible.

    I am also thankful to the good Lord who gave us the intelligence to even think of doing such stuff; to explore and learn the great wonders of his works. You do not see monkeys or dolphins doing this… ;)

    It only shows what man can do when they ‘set their mind to something’. It is a shame that such talent can not be brought to bear against such things as war, evil dictators, all sorts of other evil people. As well as other evil things such as greed – to alleviate the suffering of BILLIONS.

    We should HONOR the THOUSANDS from ALL TIME PERIODS who made this possible. If it was not for people such as these, we would still be ‘living in caves’. People ‘glorify’ actors and sports players. It is the SCIENTIST who should be ‘glorified’ as well as those who either laid down their lives for us or those who put themselves in such positions to die for us. These two types of people are the REAL HEROES! The others are not even worth my time to think about.

    To any of the readers who may had a part in this or have a part in future events such as this: THANK YOU! :)

  3. How about its still working perfectly but we thibk it’s broken because past our solar system there’s a new set of rules. Maybe we are in a simulation and it’s gone beyond our simulation into the next one so we interpret the odd information as wrong.

  4. It’s the Elmer paradox…

    …if you let a given entity operate a radio past middle age it starts talking crap and eventually the entire channel is a litany of aches, pains and failing systems.

  5. Haven’t seen any details on what the system actually measures to return the data that is now “random”. They’re covering up the fact that the speed of light is different past heliopause? or have the little green men hooked up their “first contact” transmission to the wrong channel?

  6. Sounds to me like our scientist are having trouble understanding the effects of empty space(?) You know those regions, of empty space (as we recognize and label it), that are likely to be found between planetary systems. Dang what will we do if either/any probes eve make it to the emptiness between Galaxies.

  7. Voyager 2 had a similar issue in 2010 that was caused by a bit flip.

    “[E]ngineers received a full memory readout from the flight data system computer, which formats the data to send back to Earth. They isolated the one bit in the memory that had changed, and they recreated the effect on a computer at JPL. They found the effect agrees with data coming down from the spacecraft.”

  8. Two Tylenols, a cup of lemon tea, a due change of oil, a nice haircut and shave, turn the mattress around and shove the pillow. Even my tablet that is only 2 years old is behaving funny this days.

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