Voyager 1 is still alive there., barrels into the cosmos more than 15 billion miles away. However, a computer problem has prevented the mission’s dedicated support team in Southern California from learning more about the status of one of NASA’s longest-running spacecraft.

A computer malfunction occurred on November 14, and affected Voyager 1’s ability to send back telemetry data, such as measurements from the craft’s science instruments or basic engineering information about how the probe was doing. As a result, the team has no insight into key parameters regarding the craft’s propulsion, power, or control systems.

“It would be the greatest miracle if we ever got it back. We certainly haven’t given up,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an interview with Ars. “There are other things we can try. But since I’ve been project manager, this is by far the most serious.”

Dodd became project manager of NASA’s Voyager mission in 2010, overseeing a small team of engineers responsible for humanity’s exploration of interstellar space. Voyager 1 is the farthest spacecraft ever, traveling 38,000 mph (17 km/s) from the Sun.

Voyager 2, which launched 16 days before Voyager 1 in 1977, is not far behind. It took a more leisurely route through the Solar System, passing Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, while Voyager 1 picked up speed during its race with Saturn to overtake its sister spacecraft.

For the past two decades, NASA has devoted Voyager instruments to studying cosmic rays, the magnetic field, and the plasma environment in space. They are no longer taking pictures. Both probes have traveled beyond the heliopause, where the stream of particles from the Sun enters the interstellar medium.

There are currently no other operational spacecraft exploring interstellar space. NASA’s New Horizons probe, which flew past Pluto in 2015, is on track to reach interstellar space in the 2040s.

The latest from 50 years ago

The latest problem with Voyager 1 is with the probe’s Flight Data Subsystem (FDS), one of the spacecraft’s three computers that work with the command and control central computer and another instrument that monitors attitude control and pointing. .

The FDS is responsible for collecting science and engineering data from the spacecraft’s network of sensors and then combining the information into a single data package in binary code. A separate component called the Telemetry Modulation Unit actually sends the data package back to Earth through Voyager’s 12-foot (3.7 m) dish antenna.

According to NASA, in November, data packets transmitted by Voyager 1 showed a repeating pattern of 1s and 0s as if it were stuck. JPL engineers spent the better part of three months diagnosing the cause of the problem, Dodd said. He said the engineering team is “99.9 percent sure” the problem originates in FDS, which is having trouble “frame syncing” the data.

So far, the ground team believes the most likely explanation for the problem is a memory error in the FDS. However, due to a computer hangup, engineers lack detailed data from Voyager 1 that could lead them to the root of the problem. “It’s probably somewhere in the FDS memory,” Dodd said. “A little flipped or corrupted. But without telemetry, we can’t see where that FDS memory is corrupt.”