Patching Software From Eight Billion Miles Away

Just came across this AP article describing how NASA Engineers are currently troubleshooting a software glitch on Voyager 2, which recently caused the probe to send its scientific data in an unreadable format. While reprogramming extraplanetary probes is nothing new (we've been doing it for years with the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity), there's a few reasons why this particular problem is so interesting:

  • Voyager 2 was launched in 1977, making the software over 33 years old
  • Communications sent between Voyager 2 and Earth take over 13 hours at a rate of 160 bits per second - for comparison, at that speed, the podcast would take over forty days to transmit.
  • At a distance of 8.6 billion miles from the Earth, this is likely the farthest away anyone has performed troubleshooting on a computer.

The Voyager team may be able to reprogram around the error, or find a way to decipher the format the probe is transmitting, but for now they've told the probe to stop sending the faulty data while they attempt to find a solution. Possible causes for the error are being investigated, but they don't believe the age of the spacecraft is related to the problem. Voyager 2 has had a long mission, performing flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and is currently headed into deep space to perform some of the first observations from outside our solar system, and is expected to operate for another decade.

Let's hope this glitch gets sorted out quickly, I'm not sure the Nerd Herd can do an on-site support call for this one.

5 Responses to "Patching Software From Eight Billion Miles Away"
  1. Bishop Montanha says:

    I hate to see what the cost per minute is…the bill is going to be huge !

  2. Gryper says:

    Naw…no bill for this since NASA built their own communications relay back before started sending out probes. And with the amount of data we’ve gotten back on our solar system and beyond….more than worth the cost.

    If they can’t get a fix to work, I think they will call an end to Voyager 2’s mission after 33 years. Amazing that the Voyagers have worked this long!

  3. Shooter says:

    So no instantaneous Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy/wikipedia lookups, huh?

    Does anyone know of a website that keeps track of all the interplanetary probes we’ve sent out and their current status?

  4. Shooter says:

    Sweet! Thanks Pike. I should have known Wikipedia would have a pretty good comprehensive look at the probes.

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