NASA reconnected with 43-year-old Voyager 2 11.6 billion miles from Earth after antenna repairs in Australia that left the spacecraft flying alone for seven months.
- Voyager 2 has been traveling through space since its launch in 1977
- The spacecraft is now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth
- NASA cut contact with the probe in March to fix a satellite
- The antenna of the Deep Space Station 43 in Australia went back online and sent a signal to Voyager 2
- The spacecraft received the signal and sent a response that reached NASA 34 hours later
NASA has reconnected its Voyager 2 spacecraft as it travels more than 1.6 billion miles from Earth – after the probe left a solitary bird for seven months while it was repairing the radio antenna in Australia they used to control.
The mission operators sent a series of commands to the 43-year-old probe using the Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) ground antenna, which generated a signal confirming that the “call” had been received.
The DSS43 has been offline since March as NASA completed a series of hardware upgrades, but it has tested new components by sending commands to the spacecraft.
However, due to the distance, the ground team had to wait more than 34 hours to respond – but Voyager 2 took orders and sent a “hello”.
DSS43 is located in Australia and is part of a group of radio antennas around the world that combine to communicate with any spacecraft outside the moon.
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Mission operators sent a series of commands to the 43-year-old probe using the Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) (pictured), which generated a signal confirming receipt of the ‘call’
The DSS43 has been offline since March as NASA completed a series of hardware upgrades, but tested the new components by sending commands to Voyager 2 (pictured)
The Australian Satellite Dish is one of three other dishes that are part of the Deep Space Network (DSN) – the other two being Goldstone, California, and Madrid, Spain.
The successful call indicates the DSS43 will be back fully online in February 2021.
“ What makes this mission unique is that we work at all levels of the antenna, from the base at ground level all the way to the center of the plate extending over the edge, ” said Brad Arnold, DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Voyager 2 launched in 1977 and reached interstellar space just two years earlier
“Our ping test with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we’re doing.”
In 1989, the spacecraft flew over Neptune’s north pole during a close flyby, pushing it south – and it has been heading in that direction ever since.
Now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it has no line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere.
DSS43 is the only technology on our planet that has a transmitter powerful enough to reach such a distance, and it is now receiving scientific data on interstellar space from the probe.
In 1989, the spacecraft flew over Neptune’s north pole during a close flyby, pushing it south – and it has been heading in that direction ever since. Now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it has no line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere.
The mammoth 111-foot plate has been in operation since 1972, five years before Voyager 2 was launched into space, and has just acquired its “flagship maker”
This gigantic, 111-foot-wide plate has been in operation since 1972, five years before Voyager 2 was launched into space, and has just got its “hottest makers”.
There are only two other identical antennas in the world, so turning off the antenna for one year is not the ideal situation for the Voyager or For many other NASA missions.
“The agency has made a decision to conduct these upgrades to ensure that the antenna continues to be used for current and future missions.”
“For an antenna that is around 50 years old, it is better to be proactive than reactive with the necessary maintenance.”
Not only did the fixes help the dish connect to Voyager 2, the upgrades would also benefit another important one, including the Mars Perseverance rover, which will land on the red planet on February 18, 2021.
Where are Voyagers now?
Voyager 1 is currently located 13 billion miles from Earth, and is traveling north through space.
The probe recently sent data to NASA stating that cosmic rays are four times more abundant in interstellar space than near Earth.
This indicates that the heliosphere, the region of space that contains the planets of our solar system, may act as a radiation shield.
Meanwhile, Voyager 2 is now 11.6 billion miles from Earth, heading south toward the interstellar region.
The contrasting locations of the two spacecraft allow scientists to compare two regions of space where the heliosphere interacts with the interstellar medium.
Voyager 2’s crossing into the interstellar medium allows scientists to sample the medium from two different locations at the same time.