What could be happening out near the edge of the solar system? The 33-year-old Voyager 2 spacecraft has experienced an anomaly where the data it sends back is unreadable. To try and understand the problem, engineers at JPL have shifted the spacecraft into a mode where it transmits only spacecraft health and status data. Preliminary engineering data received on May 1 show the spacecraft is basically healthy, and that the source of the issue is the flight data system, which is responsible for formatting the data to send back to Earth.
Voyager team members first noticed changes in the return of data packets from Voyager 2 on April 22, and have been working since then to troubleshoot the problem and resume the regular flow of science data. Because of a planned roll maneuver and moratorium on sending commands, engineers got their first chance to send commands to the spacecraft on April 30. It takes nearly 13 hours for signals to reach the spacecraft and nearly 13 hours for signals to come down to NASA’s Deep Space Network on Earth.
Voyager 2 is about 13.8 billion kilometers, or 8.6 billion miles, from Earth, and launched on August 20, 1977. Its twin, Voyager 1 is about 16.9 billion kilometers (10.5 billion miles) away from Earth, and launched almost two weeks after Voyager 2.
The original mission was a four-year journey to Saturn, and later the flybys of Uranus and Neptune were added to give us a “Grand Tour” of the outer solar system. If all goes well, Voyager 2 should leave the solar system and enter interstellar space in about five years.