Work to resolve binary babble from Voyager 1 is ongoing

You think your latency is bad? How about 45 hours to see if a command worked?

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has confirmed that work to resolve a data issue aboard Voyager 1 continues, almost two months since the spacecraft began spouting gibberish.

The good news is that engineers can send commands to the spacecraft and have confirmed that those commands are being received. However, the distances involved mean that the process is hugely time consuming. According to JPL, it takes 22.5 hours for a message to reach the spacecraft and another 22.5 hours for the response to be received.

Thus, engineers must wait 45 hours to see if a command has the expected outcome.

The Register understands that "all available talents" are being used to resolve the problem. Considering the age of the probe and the fact that it is running on so many backup systems, such issues are inevitable.

Dr Garry Hunt, a member of the original Voyager team, told us: "This certainly shows the value of having backup systems and duplications."

According to Hunt, it is also a reminder that "commercial space organizations will not be able to afford to work in this way so we can expect more failures in the new space age."

That said, Voyager 1's mission is not over by any stretch of the imagination, and Voyager 2 continues its journey unaffected by the travails of its sibling.

The problem is an issue with one of Voyager 1's three onboard computers, called the Flight Data System (FDS). At the end of last year, the FDS started having issues communicating with Voyager's subsystems, which resulted in the Telemetry Modulation Unit (TMU) sending a repeating pattern of ones and zeroes back to Earth rather than the expected engineering and science data.

The Voyager team reckoned the issue was with the FDS and tried to restart it but to no avail.

The fact that the Voyager probes continue to function decades after their launch remains an impressive achievement, both on the part of the original engineers and designers and the teams that currently operate the spacecraft.

While JPL is suffering from some severe budget constraints in the short term, the Voyager mission remains a reminder that when considering space exploration, long-term thinking is for the best. ®

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