Voyager 1 defies the odds yet again and is back online

After over six months of technical issues, the little spacecraft that could is ‘conducting normal science operations.’
Andrew Paul Avatar
Artist concept art of Voyager 1
An artist’s concept of the Voyager spacecraft. NASA / JPL-Caltech

Voyager 1 defied the odds yet again—after over six months of technical issues potentially foreshadowing humanity’s final farewell to the historic spacecraft, NASA reports all four of the probe’s instruments are “conducting normal science operations” once more. In its June 13 announcement, the agency notes that while the probe is back to studying interstellar particles, magnetic fields, and plasma waves, “minor work” is still needed to fix lingering issues like resynchronizing Voyager 1’s timekeeping software across its three onboard computers. Additional maintenance is also required for a digital tape recorder responsible for recording portions of the plasma wave instrument data that Voyager 1 transmits back to Earth twice a year. Still, the fact that NASA can report all of the probe’s instruments are now collecting “usable science data” is a remarkable return from the near-dead.

It’s been a tense few months for the Voyager 1 team after mission control first detected technical issues within its flight data subsystem’s telemetry module unit back in November 2023. Engineers estimated a potential fix would likely take several weeks at minimum, given the roughly two-day communications time lag for any message sent between NASA and the spacecraft—now over 15 billion miles from Earth and beyond the boundaries of our solar system.

[Related: Voyager 1 is sending back bad data, but NASA is on it.]

In April, the team confirmed a successful partial fix after Voyager 1 regained the ability to beam back engineering data. According to NASA’s Thursday news post, mission engineers initiated the second step of the repair on May 19, instructing the spacecraft to begin returning its science data, as well. Two of the four equipment arrays restored normal operations immediately, while the other pair required a bit more backend work.

Every additional day Voyager 1 and 2 remain in working condition is another day that exceeds expectations. Launched in 1977, the spacecraft were originally intended to only conduct a five-year mission to observe the moons and rings of Saturn and Jupiter, after which engineers assumed the pair would eventually go offline for good. By 1989, however, NASA celebrated Voyager 2’s unscheduled flyby of Neptune, with both craft soon passing beyond the heliosphere into interstellar space.

Over 45 years later, the Voyager craft continue their unprecedented and unanticipated journeys, by now outlasting some of their human creators—Ed Stone, who served as the mission’s project scientist for 50 years, passed away on June 8 at the age of 88.

“It has been a remarkable journey, and I’m thankful to everyone around the world who has followed Voyager and joined us on this adventure,” Stone said upon retiring in 2022.