NASA engineers finally fix Voyager 1 spacecraft — from 15 billion miles away

An artist impression of the Voyager 1 probe in interstellar space.
An artist’s concept of the Voyager 1 spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Voyager 1 interstellar probe is finally returning usable data from all four of its science instruments, scientists say.

The fix comes seven months after the probe went off the rails and started talking gibberish, NASA representatives said in a statement on June 13.

The spacecraft went haywire in November 2023 and began sending nonsensical signals following a technical issue with one of its three onboard computers. Engineers partially resolved the glitch in April after sending a command to Voyager 1's flight data subsystem (FDS), which is responsible for neatly packaging science data before the spacecraft transmits them to Earth. The command prompted Voyager 1 to send back its first readable message in four months, enabling engineers to locate the problem. 

After locating the glitch on a single computer chip, the team then devised a workaround to alter the FDS' code remotely — from billions of miles away — and begin restoring Voyager's instruments to working order.

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Two of Voyager 1's four science instruments resumed returning usable data in May, and after some further tinkering, all four are now back in business, the agency said. The instruments are responsible for gathering information about plasma waves, magnetic fields and particles in interstellar space.

While Voyager 1's data systems are back up and running, further work is needed to fully restore the spacecraft, according to the statement. Engineers still need to resynchronize timekeeping software that enables all three onboard computers to execute commands at the same time, for example. The team will also perform maintenance on the probe's digital tape recorder, which stores data for the plasma wave instrument.

Voyager 1 is zooming through interstellar space more than 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth. Interstellar space is the region outside the heliosphere — the protective bubble created by the sun's magnetic fields and winds. The spacecraft is so far away, engineers have to wait 22.5 hours for their commands to reach it and another 22.5 hours for the response. 

Voyager 1 and its twin probe, Voyager 2, have been cruising through space for nearly 47 years. They are NASA's longest-running spacecraft and the most distant human-made objects in existence.

Sascha Pare
Trainee staff writer

Sascha is a U.K.-based trainee staff writer at Live Science. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Southampton in England and a master’s degree in science communication from Imperial College London. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and the health website Zoe. Besides writing, she enjoys playing tennis, bread-making and browsing second-hand shops for hidden gems.