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August 2, 2021
PHOTO CREDITS: NASA
According to ScienceAlert.com, NASA has finally reestablished communications with the Voyager 2 spacecraft after about eight months of silence. NASA launched Voyager 2 in 1977 to study the outer planets of our solar system and is the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune to this day.
The breakdown in communications lasting since March, almost eight months ago, was not caused by a malfunction. Instead, it was scheduled for routine maintenance. NASA announced that Deep Space Station 43 (DSS-43) in Australia, the only antenna on Earth that can send commands to Voyager 2, required critical upgrades and would need to shut down for approximately 11 months while the work was being completed.
During this window, Voyager 2, which is currently over 11.6 billion miles away from Earth and getting farther every second, would not be able to receive any communications from Earth, although its broadcasts would still be received by scientists. DSS-43’s renovation is still underway and on track to be completed by February of 2021, but enough of the upgrades have been installed for preliminary testing to start and for communications to resume.
On Friday, October 30, mission operators sent their first commands since March. After a long 34 hour and 48 minute round trip, a signal was received confirming that it had executed the commands without issue. According to NASA, DSS-43 has not been offline for this long in thirty years. The old radio antenna, the only one in the world capable of communicating with Voyager 2, had been in use for over 47 years.
As for why DSS-43 is the only dish in the world that can reach Voyager 2, it is not technological. As a result of the spacecraft’s flyby of Neptune’s moon Triton in 1989, Voyager 2 was steered significantly southward relative to the Solar System’s plane of planets, meaning antennas on Earth’s northern hemisphere have no way of reaching it.
For antennas in the southern hemisphere though, it is not that difficult, unless you get taken offline for almost a year of critical upgrades. Even with this, scientists have still managed to keep a close eye on the probe’s vitals. Suzanne Dodd, the project manager for the Voyager Interstellar Mission, told CNN, “We’ve always been talking to the spacecraft, we’ve been doing that daily. We can see the health of it. If it wasn’t healthy, we would have known.”
ARTICLE: JOSEPH MODICA
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH