NASA reestablishes contact with 43-year-old Voyager 2 which is 11.6 BILLION miles from Earth after repairs to antenna in Australia left spacecraft flying solo for seven months
- Voyager 2 has been traveling through space since launching in 1977
- The spacecraft is now more than 11.6 billion miles away from Earth
- NASA cutoff communication with the probe in March to repair a satellite
- The Deep Space Station 43 antenna in Australia went back online and sent Voyager 2 a signal
- The craft received the signal and sent a reply that reached NASA 34 hours later
NASA has reestablished contact with its Voyager 2 spacecraft as it travels more than 1.6 billion miles from Earth – after the probe was left flying solo for seven months while repairs were made to the radio antenna in Australia they use to control it.
Mission operators sent a series of commands to the 43-year-old probe using the ground-based Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) antenna, which established a signal confirming the ‘call’ was received.
DSS43 had been offline since March while NASA completed a series of hardware upgrades, but tested the new components by sending commands to the craft.
However, due to the distance, the ground team had to wait more than 34 hours for a reply – but Voyager 2 received the commands and sent back a ‘hello.’
DSS43 is located in Australia and is part of a collection of radio antennas around the world that combine to communicate with any spacecraft beyond 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 established a signal confirming the ‘call’ was received
DSS43 had been offline since March while 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 others that are part of the Deep Space Network (DSN) -the other two include Goldstone, California, and Madrid, Spain.
The successful call suggests DSS43 will be back online fully in February 2021.
Brad Arnold, the DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California, said: ‘What makes this task unique is that we’re doing work at all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level all the way up to the feedcones at the center of the dish that extend above the rim.’
Voyager 2 launched in 1977 and reached interstellar space just two years ago
‘This test communication 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 as it made a close flyby, which pushed it southward – and it has been heading in this direction ever since.
Now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it doesn’t have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere.
DSS43 is the only technology on our planet with a transmitter powerful enough to reach such a distance and it is now receiving science data of interstellar space from the probe.
In 1989, the spacecraft flew over Neptune’s north pole as it made a close flyby, which pushed it southward – and it has been heading in this direction ever since. Now more than 11.6 billion miles from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it doesn’t have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere
The massive 111-foot wide dish has been operating since 1972, five years before Voyager 2 launched into space, and just received its ‘most significant makeovers’
The massive 111-foot wide dish has been operating since 1972, five years before Voyager 2 launched into space, and just received its ‘most significant makeovers.’
Philip Baldwin, operations manager for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program, said: ‘The DSS43 antenna is a highly specialized system; there are only two other similar antennas in the world, so having the antenna down for one year is not an ideal situation for Voyager or for many other NASA missions.’
‘The agency made the decision to conduct these upgrades to ensure that the antenna can continue to be used for current and future missions.’
‘For an antenna that is almost 50 years old, it’s better to be proactive than reactive with critical maintenance.’
Not only did the repairs help the dish make contact with Voyager 2, but the upgrades will also benefit other mission, including the Mars Perseverance rover, which will land on the Red Planet Feb. 18, 2021.
WHERE ARE THE VOYAGERS NOW?
Voyager 1 is currently 13 billion miles away from Earth, travelling northward through space.
The probe has recently sent back data to Nasa that cosmic rays are as much as four times more abundant in interstellar space than in the vicinity of Earth.
This suggests that the heliosphere, the region of space that contains our solar system’s planets, may act as a radiation shield.
Meanwhile, Voyager 2 is now 11.6 billion miles from Earth, travelling south towards 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 crossing into the interstellar medium allows scientists to sample the medium from two different locations at the same time.