Voyager 1 regains sanity after engineers patch around problematic memory

All from billions of miles away

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has begun returning usable engineering data after engineers devised a way to work around a damaged memory chip.

It is the first time the spacecraft has returned usable data since it began babbling nonsensically in 2023. The problem was eventually traced to a single chip responsible for storing a portion of the Flight Data Subsystem (FDS) memory.

The chip's failure made science and engineering data from the probe unusable, and posed a challenge for engineers. The chip contained some of the FDS computer's code, but simply shifting that code elsewhere wasn't an option – no single location was large enough to hold it.

The solution was to break the code into sections, tweak them so they still functioned as a whole, and store them in different places in the FDS. Any references to the code's location would also need to be updated.

The spacecraft is currently more than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth, meaning that a radio signal from Earth takes approximately 22.5 hours to reach it and the same again to get a response.

Engineers started with the code responsible for packaging the spacecraft's engineering data and sent it to its new location on April 18. On April 20, they had confirmation – the fix was successful, and engineering data began flowing from the spacecraft for the first time in five months.

The team will relocate the rest of the affected software over the next few weeks, meaning that science data should also start being returned from the veteran probe.

Dr Garry Hunt, one of the original Voyager scientists, told The Register he was "thrilled" by the news but cautioned that it would take a little time to get the spacecraft set up again for science, thanks in part to the lengthy communication time.

He also told us he was not surprised by the achievement: "JPL engineers are brilliant."

The news will help lift some of the gloom hanging over the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the wake of NASA's budget woes. However, it is also a reminder of the extraordinary longevity and forward-thinking of past missions. Voyager 1 was, after all, launched in 1977 and there is every chance that the spacecraft will still be functioning more than 50 years after its launch. ®

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