Researchers revealed in late June that Voyager 1 was transmitting data to Earth showing that it had lost its orientation in space. Given that it was initially designed for a five-year voyage through the solar system, the probe’s issues are not unexpected in general. Meanwhile, 45 years have passed since the probe was launched from the surface of the Earth. Therefore, no one should be surprised by the flaws.
As long as the probe is operational, however, every effort should be made to keep it alive for as long as feasible. In any case, Voyager 1 and its sister spacecraft Voyager 2 offer Earth with knowledge about interstellar space, where we are unlikely to launch another probe in the near future.
Controllers assessing the probe’s sent data have now declared that Voyager 1 is once again delivering accurate telemetry data to Earth.
From the very beginning, it was clear that the problem was connected to the mechanism responsible for ensuring that the probe’s antenna was always pointed towards Earth. If the antenna were to flip, we would lose communication with the spaceship (and the history of space exploration knows too many such cases).
The engineers discovered that this antenna control system had resumed transmitting telemetry data via an on-board computer that had been decommissioned for many years. This computer was responsible for distorting the data, which ultimately arrived on Earth as a succession of nonsensical facts.
Once this was determined, the engineers issued a command to the probe instructing it to send the data via the appropriate computer. As he withdrew his hand, the issue disappeared. Obviously, it takes time to determine if the cure was effective.
In fact, Voyager 1 is already almost 23 billion kilometers from Earth, which implies that the signal from Earth takes 22 hours to reach the probe. The signal verifying the command’s execution is also traveling towards the Earth.
After the probe’s health was fully restored, the issue emerged as to how it could suddenly begin using a long-forgotten computer. In the next weeks, experts will examine all computer logs from the spacecraft’s onboard systems to determine the source of the misunderstanding.
It’s probable that everything began with a faulty order delivered to the instruments by another computer onboard. There is a little probability that the failure will occur again, but scientists are still intrigued about what may have occurred in the ‘brain’ of the 45-year-old probe.