NASA Restores Communication to Voyager Spacecraft in Seemingly Impossible Feat

Voyager 1

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… earlier this week, NASA reported the successful restoration of communication with its famous Voyager I probe, which is currently the farthest humanmade object from Earth. This week, we’ll take a look at 1) how Voyager was finally able to phone home, 2) what the iconic space probe represents to NASA’s legacy, 3) why the science instruments on board the spacecraft are so important, and 4) why a few additional tweaks will still be required to keep the aging space probe functional.

Quote of the Week

“It would be the biggest miracle if we get [Voyager] back.”

– Suzanne Dodd, Voyager Project Manager

Latest News: In recent articles at The Debrief, Tim McMillan provides us an update on what new photos reveal about the Boeing Orca XLUUV, the Navy’s autonomous undersea vehicle featuring a modular payload design. Elsewhere, Chris Plain reports on how an international team of astronomers say they just witnessed a black hole appear out of nowhere. As always, all of our recent stories can be found at the end of this week’s newsletter. 

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Video News: This week on Rebelliously Curious, Chrissy Newton is joined by John Priestland and Dr. Daniel Stubbings of the UK-based uNHIdden initiative. Be sure to check out other great content from The Debrief on our official YouTube Channel.

Now, it’s time to look at how NASA achieved what had once been considered an impossible feat: full restoration of communication with the furthest-travelled human-made spacecraft.

NASA’s Voyager Probe Finally Phones Home

After seven months of silence, NASA’s iconic Voyager 1 probe is back on track and sending useable scientific information from its ever-more-distant position from Earth on its course through interstellar space.

The spacecraft, currently the furthest human-made object from Earth, had remained mostly incommunicado since a technical issue that first came to light in November 2023 halted normal communications from the space probe.


Earlier this year, it was previously reported that Voyager 1 had begun returning usable data about its onboard systems after the team managing the probe at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California overcame a few engineering hurdles that had initially kept them in the dark about the spacecraft’s performance for close to five months.

Voyager and NASA’s Legacy

Launched more than 46 years ago, the twin Voyager I and II probes represent the longest-running missions in NASA history, as well as the farthest spacecraft ever to have travelled from Earth.

During their missions, both Voyager spacecraft visited Jupiter and Saturn, and Voyager II also flew by Uranus and Neptune.

Following a breakthrough in April that allowed some limited science data, including health data and information on the spacecraft’s status, to be returned from Voyager I, the second step in NASA’s long-distance engineering efforts was initiated on May 19, when a command was beamed to the spacecraft across a distance of approximately 15.1 billion miles.

NASA’s JPL has since reported that two of Voyager’s four science instruments subsequently resumed normal operation modes immediately upon receipt of the message. Although the other two instruments on board the probe still required some troubleshooting, NASA says that all systems are currently back online.

Voyager’s Suite of Science Instruments

It is fortunate that Voyager has resumed normal operations since the four instruments onboard the famous spacecraft are designed to study plasma waves, magnetic fields, and particles. This allows NASA an unprecedented opportunity to examine these phenomena from a greater distance than any other spacecraft can.

Schematic showing locations of science instrumentation aboard the Voyager 1 probe (Credit: NASA).

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are the only spacecraft to have directly collected information from positions in interstellar space, which lies beyond the heliosphere—the protective bubble of magnetic fields and solar wind generated by the Sun.

Although NASA reported this week that Voyager is back online, a few fixes and minor adjustments will still be required before the decades-old spacecraft’s onboard systems reach true full functionality.

Back Online, but Maintenance is Still Needed

Among the existing issues engineers need to address is the resynchronization of the timekeeping software on board the probe’s computer systems. This will hopefully prevent additional communication issues similar to those that left Voyager partially inoperable for the last seven months.

NASA says that maintenance will also need to be performed on the probe’s digital tape recorder. This recorder stores data for the plasma wave instrument and transmits it to Earth on two occasions every year. Most of the science data from the Voyagers is sent directly to Earth in real-time without being recorded.

Bringing Voyager back online represents another milestone for NASA, particularly after Voyager’s Project Manager, Suzanne Dodd, told Ars Technica  back in February that “it would be the biggest miracle if we get [Voyager] back.”

That concludes this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief. You can read past editions of The Intelligence Brief at our website, or if you found this installment online, don’t forget to subscribe and get future email editions from us here. Also, if you have a tip or other information you’d like to send along directly to me, you can email me at micah [@] thedebrief [dot] org, or Tweet at me @MicahHanks.

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