Voyager 1 sends data to Earth after months of bad communication

An artist's concept of the Voyager spacecraft.

A bad computer chip caused Voyager 1 to stop logically communicating with NASA, but now after months of bad data, information is once again flowing correctly.

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Voyager 1 is more than 15 billion miles from Earth in the deep recesses of space. It takes about 22 1/2 hours for one-way communication, The Associated Press reported. It’s another 22 1/2 hours to receive data back because of the distance involved.

The last time the spacecraft communicated with understandable data was in November but a bad chip degraded the messages after that. Now with some long, long, long distance coding, Voyager 1 communications devices are back to making sense.

The device is called a telemetry modulation unit, according to CNN, and was sending code that kept repeating.

A spokeswoman at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab said that the team was able to receive messages for the past few months, but that it was like when someone makes a call and you can’t hear what the other person is saying, the AP reported.

So through trial and error — sending a “poke” to Voyager 1 and then different software sequences to narrow down the issue — they were able to isolate the problem. There was one signal that didn’t match the format scientists typically see. An engineer decoded it and saw what went wrong — 3% of the flight data system’s memory was corrupted, CNN reported.

The team cut the code into chunks, stored it in different areas of the system, and were able to get everything up and running over the weekend.

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 to study Jupiter and Saturn. Its mission was to last only five years, but more than 47 years later, it’s still exploring. Its latest mission, which started in 2012, was to explore interstellar space.

Voyager 1 gathers information via several scientific instruments, takes that information and combines it with engineering data from the spacecraft, reflecting the probe’s health then sends it back in binary form, or a series of ones and zeros, CNN reported.

Voyager 2, the spacecraft’s twin, is 12.6 billion miles from Earth and is still functioning as intended.