Voyager 1 Once Again Returning Science Data From All Four Instruments

As humanity’s furthest reach into the Universe so far, the two Voyager spacecraft’s well-being is of utmost importance to many. Although we know that there will be an end to any science mission, the recent near-death experience by Voyager 1 was a shocking event for many. Now it seems that things may have more or less returned to normal, with all four remaining scientific instruments now back online and returning information.

Since the completion of Voyager 1’s primary mission over 43 years ago, five of its instruments (including the cameras) were disabled to cope with its diminishing power reserves, with two more instruments failing. This left the current magnetometer (MAG), charged particle (LECP) and cosmic ray (CRS) instruments, as well as the plasma wave subsystem (PWS). These are now all back in operation based on the returned science data after the Voyager team confirmed previously that they were receiving engineering data again.

With Voyager 1 now mostly back to normal, some housekeeping is necessary: resynchronizing the onboard time, as well as maintenance on the digital tape recorder. This will ensure that this venerable spacecraft will be all ready for its 47th anniversary this fall.

Thanks to [Mark Stevens] for the tip.

NASA’s Voyager 1 Resumes Sending Engineering Updates To Earth

After many tense months, it seems that thanks to a gaggle of brilliant engineering talent and a lucky break the Voyager 1 spacecraft is once more back in action. Confirmation came on April 20th, when Voyager 1 transmitted its first data since it fell silent on November 14 2023. As previously suspected, the issue was a defective memory chip in the flight data system (FDS), which among other things is responsible for preparing the data it receives from other systems before it is transmitted back to Earth. As at this point in time Voyager 1 is at an approximate 24 billion kilometers distance, this made for a few tense days for those involved.

The firmware patch that got sent over on April 18th contained an initial test to validate the theory, moving the code responsible for the engineering data packaging to a new spot in the FDS memory. If the theory was correct, this should mean that this time the correct data should be sent back from Voyager. Twice a 22.5 hour trip and change through Deep Space and back later on April 20th the team was ecstatic to see what they had hoped for.

With this initial test successful, the team can now move on to moving the remaining code away from the faulty memory after which regular science operations should resume, and giving the plucky spacecraft a new lease on life at the still tender age of 46.

An image of the surface of Europa. The top half of the sphere is illuminated with the bottom half dark. The surface is traced with lineae, long lines across its surface of various hues of grey, white, and brown. The surface is a brown-grey, somewhat like Earth's Moon with the highest brightness areas appearing white.

Europa Clipper Asks Big Questions Of The Jovian Moon

Are we alone? While we certainly have lots of strange lifeforms to choose from as companions here on our blue marble, we have yet to know if there’s anything else alive out there in the vastness of space. One of the most promising places to look in our own solar neighborhood is Europa.

People in bunny suits swarm underneath the main section of the Europa Clipper. It is predominantly white, with various tubes and structures of silver metal protruding and many pieces of yellow kapton tape are visible. A large orange module is strapped to the side around the middle of the semi-cylindrical craft. Several other dark orange metallic plates that are much smaller adorn various pieces of the craft. It looks both chonky and delicate at the same time. Underneath its icy surface, Europa appears to have a sea that contains twice as much water as we have here on Earth. Launching later this year and arriving in 2030, NASA’s Europa Clipper will provide us with our most up-close-and-personal look at the Jovian Moon yet. In conjunction with observations from the ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), scientists hope to gain enough new data to see if the conditions are right for life.

Given the massive amounts of radiation in the Jovian system, Europa Clipper will do 50 flybys of the moon over the course of four years to reduce damage to instruments as well as give it windows to transmit data back to Earth with less interference. With enough planning and luck, the mission could find promising sites for a future lander that might be able to better answer the question of if there actually is life on other worlds.

Some of the other moons around Jupiter could host life, like Io. Looking for life a little closer? How about on our nearest neighbor, Venus, or the ever popular Mars?

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.

The Cost Of Moving Atoms In Space; Unpacking The Dubious Claims Of A $10 Quintillion Space Asteroid

The rest of the media were reporting on an asteroid named 16 Psyche last month worth $10 quintillion. Oddly enough they reported in July 2019 and again in February 2018 that the same asteroid was worth $700 quintillion, so it seems the space rock market is similar to cryptocurrency in its wild speculation. Those numbers are ridiculous, but it had us thinking about the economies of space transportation, and what atoms are worth based on where they are. Let’s break down how gravity wells, distance, and arbitrage work to figure out how much of this $10-$700 quintillion we can leverage for ourselves.

The value assigned to everything has to do with where a thing is, AND how much someone needs that thing to be somewhere else. If they need it in a different place, someone must pay for the transportation of it.

In international (and interplanetary) trade, this is where Incoterms come in. These are the terms used to describe who pays for and has responsibility for the goods between where they are and where they need to be. In this case, all those materials are sitting on an asteroid, and someone has to pay for all the transport and insurance and duties. Note that on the asteroid these materials need to be mined and refined as well; they’re not just sitting in a box on some space dock. On the other end of the spectrum, order something from Amazon and it’s Amazon that takes care of everything until it’s dropped on your doorstep. The buyer is paying for shipping either way; it’s just a matter of whether that cost is built into the price or handled separately. Another important term is arbitrage, which is the practice of taking a thing from one market and selling it in a different market at a higher price. In this case the two markets are Earth and space.

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Extraterrestrial Excavation: Digging Holes On Other Worlds

We humans are good at a lot of things, but making holes in the ground has to be among our greatest achievements. We’ve gone from grubbing roots with a stick to feeding billions with immense plows pulled by powerful tractors, and from carving simple roads across the land to drilling tunnels under the English Channel. Everywhere we go, we move dirt and rock out of the way, remodeling the planet to suit our needs.

Other worlds are subject to our propensity for digging holes too, and in the 50-odd years that we’ve been visiting or sending robots as our proxies, we’ve made our marks on quite a few celestial bodies. So far, all our digging has been in the name of science, either to explore the physical and chemical properties of these far-flung worlds in situ, or to actually package up a little bit of the heavens for analysis back home. One day we’ll no doubt be digging for different reasons, but until then, here’s a look at the holes we’ve dug and how we dug them.

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Do Space Probes Fail Because Of Space Weather?

Over the past few decades, numerous space probes sent to the far-flung reaches of the Solar System have fallen silent. These failures weren’t due to communications problems, probes flying into scientifically implausible anomalies, or little green men snatching up the robotic scouts we’ve sent out into the Solar System. No, these space probes have failed simply because engineers on Earth can’t point them. If you lose attitude control, you lose the ability to point a transmitter at Earth. If you’re managing a space telescope, losing the ability to point a spacecraft turns a valuable piece of scientific equipment into a worthless, spinning pile of junk.

The reasons for these failures is difficult to pin down, but now a few people have an idea. Failures of the Kepler, Dawn, Hayabusa, and FUSE space probes were due to failures of the reaction wheels in the spacecraft. These failures, in turn, were caused by space weather. Specifically, coronal mass ejections from the Sun. How did this research come about, and what does it mean for future missions to deep space?

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