Voyager 2 Has Flipped Its Bit

I was just alerted to this story by one of the followers of this blog…  Last month Voyager 2 began returning some unusual signals.  This story is being reported by alternate news outlets as suggesting that aliens have tampered with Voyager 2.  NASA’s own take on the story is quite a bit more conventional.

I’m afraid most of my readers will be disappointed, but I feel confident a conventional explanation is the correct one.  I’ve seen something similar happen before.

As I detailed in Curiosity of Spirit, cosmic rays can have peculiar and devastating effects on electronic hardware. In most cases, like that of Spirit, a computer’s memory can be altered, perhaps even regions of it made unusable.  I remember a meeting I was pulled into at GRC in 1992 or 1993.  A recently launched military spy satellite had suddenly become effectively unresponsive.  It continued to transmit, but its responses were unintelligible, and it didn’t appear to be receiving or reacting to messages transmitted to it.  Ordinarily NASA wouldn’t be involved since it was a military project, but other agencies were apparently being cursorily queried for ideas as the satellite was soon going to miss a burn without which it might pose a risk to other satellites.

We were being asked to spend two hours brainstorming and come up with whatever we could.  Like Voyager 2 the basic protocol was still received as expected, but the contents were no longer readable. Initial theories related to a problem with the memory used to buffer the transmissions, problems with the logic boards, problems with a recent software update, etc.  The engineer who shared the office next to mine suggested something that fit the facts perfectly. “What if the encryption key was somehow changed?” A discussion followed and by the end of the meeting this became the leading theory, that a cosmic ray or some other event had bit flipped one or more bits in the encryption key used to encrypt data for Earth and decrypt data from Earth.  With the key no longer matching the key on Earth, the satellite was effectively speaking a different and incomprehensible language.  Someone relayed our guess to whoever had asked us to be involved and about two weeks later we learned that this was in fact what happened.  Apparently it was no easy task figuring out what the key had now become.  NSA was drawn into it and put their considerable resources to bear in trying different alterations of the original key to make a new key which could decode the received data.  It took them most of those two weeks, a stable of computers, and billions of combinations tested, to find the new key (which was only a handful of bits away from the original).  Once they had the new key, all communication and control was restored.

I’m pretty confident that Voyager 2 is suffering from a similar bit flip problem.


11 Responses to Voyager 2 Has Flipped Its Bit

  1. Anon says:


    you mentioned in your articale this is similar to bits being flipped in the encryption of a previous satalite you had some involvement working on. O no expert but would a craft launched in the 70s have the same level if any.

  2. Daniel says:

    We had very good encryption even back then, and they could also upgrade the software if they wanted to.

  3. David says:

    Interesting stuff…I’m about to start working on a sci-fi screenplay that has to do with the idea of a “cosmic quarantine” imposed on the Earth by alien species. Just a fun thought, maybe the Voyager craft, which is nearing the edge of the heliosphere, just hit the cosmic quarantine barrier around our solar system?

    Yes, I know, groundless speculation, but I’m in sci-fi writing mode, here. I’m imagining a sentinel device, one of millions (at least) set up in a massive sphere around our system, just waiting to zap any craft that comes close enough with a gamma ray burst to disrupt its operations.

  4. Drew says: has updated their page concerning this so I thought I would share.


    Updated May 17, 2010 at 5:00 PT.

    One flip of a bit in the memory of an onboard computer appears to have caused the change in the science data pattern returning from Voyager 2, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Monday, May 17. A value in a single memory location was changed from a 0 to a 1.

    On May 12, engineers received a full memory readout from the flight data system computer, which formats the data to send back to Earth. They isolated the one bit in the memory that had changed, and they recreated the effect on a computer at JPL. They found the effect agrees with data coming down from the spacecraft. They are planning to reset the bit to its normal state on Wednesday, May 19.

    I assume the news media jumped directly to “Voyager 2 hijacked by aliens?” due to the Golden Record included in both Voyager probes.

  5. Catalytic says:

    You called it right and you called it early! My vision of our reality is shifting. Good work fella

  6. Monica says:

    I was just going to post Rufus’s link. This jibes with your experience.

  7. rufus says:

    yes Monica this definitely lends great credibility to Astroengineer’s original story. If mainstream can have 10 miles, I’m sure the most secretive black projects operated by the military can achieve exponentially more.

  8. John Martin says:

    Here’s the official article on the Quantum teleportation:

    I have the feeling that we are on the precipice of some major changes coming soon.

  9. […] of the program itself, but after 1200 CPU hours, who can guarantee a bit wasn’t mistakenly flipped by some cosmic rays or a magnetic malfunction? Indeed, the proof was further simplified and reproved over the next […]

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