NASA re-establishes contact with Voyager 2 spacecraft after 7 months
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has revealed it re-established contact with its 43-year-old Voyager 2 spacecraft, now over 18.8 billion kilometers from Earth, after a seven-month hiatus. The American space agency had no contact with it since the COVID-19 pandemic started in mid-March. However, after upgrades and repairs at its Deep Space Network in Australia, NASA could communicate with the spacecraft.
Commands sent to Voyager 2 using the ground-based DSS43 antenna
According to NASA, the mission operators sent a series of commands to Voyager 2 through the ground-based Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) antenna in Australia. The DSS43, which had been offline since March, established a signal with the spacecraft, making a successful call on October 29. However, the team had to wait for over 34 hours for Voyager 2's reply due to the distance.
Here's what the DSN center in Canberra tweeted
Great news everyone!🎉— CanberraDSN (@CanberraDSN) November 2, 2020
Deep Space Station 43, the only dish in the world that can send commands to @NASAVoyager-2, has re-established contact with the spacecraft after an 8-month hiatus while the antenna has been undergoing an upgrade. #DSS43 @CSIRO https://t.co/p3EHtyGqjF
Voyager 2 executed the commands without issue: NASA
"Mission operators sent a series of commands to NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft for the first time since mid-March," NASA stated on its website. "The spacecraft has been flying solo while the...radio antenna used to talk to it has been offline for repairs and upgrades. Voyager 2 returned a signal confirming it had received the 'call' and executed the commands without issue," it added.
Team received Voyager 2 health updates when DSS43 was offline
"Since the (DSS43) dish went offline, operators have been able to receive health updates and science data from Voyager 2, but they haven't been able to send commands to the probe, which has traveled billions of miles from Earth since its 1977 launch," NASA stated.
DSS43, only antenna capable of sending commands to Voyager 2
NASA said the call to Voyager 2 was a test of newly-installed hardware on DSS43, adding it is "the only dish in the world that can send commands to Voyager 2." DSS43, located in Canberra, Australia, is part of NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) - a collection of radio antennas at three different sites across the world used to communicate with interplanetary spacecraft missions.
These are the upgrades carried out at DSS43
According to NASA, two new radio transmitters are among the upgrades to the DSS43 dish. Interestingly, one of these transmitters used to communicate with Voyager 2 has not been replaced in more than 47 years. Upgrades to the dish's heating and cooling equipment, power supply equipment, and other electronics that are required to run the new transmitters were also carried out by the team.
'Things are on track with the work we're doing'
NASA said the successful call to Voyager 2 using DSS43 is a sign that upgrades to the dish will be completed by February 2021, when the antenna will be back online. "This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we're doing," said Brad Arnold, DSN Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California.