NASA has announced that it has reestablished contact from Canberra, Australia

An “interstellar shout” was able to contact the Voyager 2 spacecraft beyond the Solar System

On June 21, the US space agency lost communication with the Voyager 2 space probe, launched on August 20, 1977.

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It is the second spacecraft that has gone farthest

Like we already saw two years ago, between 1979 and 1989 Voyager 2 flew over Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, becoming the only spacecraft to have flown over all four planets giants of the Solar System, being also the first space probe to fly over the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune. On Uranus, Voyager 2 discovered ten new moons and two new rings, while on Neptune it discovered five new moons, four new rings and a "great dark spot" on the planet.

The launch of Voyager 2 on August 20, 1977 using a Titan IIIE-Centaur rocket (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech).

On December 10, 2018, Voyager 2 entered interstellar space, following in the footsteps of its sister probe, Voyager 1, which is today the most remote spacecraft and continues to operate normally. At the time of writing these lines, Voyager 2 has been on the mission for 45 years, 11 months and 15 days.

NASA lost communication with the spacecraft a few days ago due to an error

On July 28, 2023, NASA reported that communication with Voyager 2 had been lost: "A series of planned commands sent to NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft on July 21 without realizing account caused the antenna to be pointed at 2 degrees from Earth. As a result, Voyager 2 is currently unable to receive commands or transmit data to Earth." Currently, the spacecraft is at 19.9 billion kilometers away from Earth.

An image that allows us to observe the instruments of Voyager 2. The most distinctive is its high-gain circular antenna of 3.7 meters in diameter, which allows it to communicate with Earth. On the left we see the three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), powered by plutonium-238 in the form of Pu02 oxide. You can find more information about these instruments by clicking here. (Image: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

NASA already informed then that Voyager 2 "is scheduled to reset its orientation several times a year to keep its antenna pointed at Earth; the next reset will occur on October 15, which it should allow communication to resume." The US space agency also said the mission team expected Voyager 2 to remain on its planned trajectory during the calm period.

On August 1, NASA picked up a carrier signal from Voyager 2.

On August 1, NASA communicated: "Using multiple antennas, NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) was able to detect a carrier signal from Voyager 2. A carrier signal is what the spacecraft uses to send data back to Earth. The signal is too faint for data to be extracted, but the detection confirms that the spacecraft is still operating. The spacecraft also continues on its expected trajectory."

The position of Voyager 2 with respect to the Solar System today (Image: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory).

NASA also noted that although Voyager 2 was expected to point its antenna at Earth in mid-October, "the team will attempt to command Voyager sooner, while its antenna is still pointed away from Earth. To do this, a DSN antenna will be used to “shout” the command to Voyager to turn its antenna. This intermediary attempt may not work, in which case the team will wait for the spacecraft to automatically reset its orientation in October."

NASA manages to regain contact with Voyager 2 from Australia

Finally, this Friday NASA has communicated that "has reestablished full communications with Voyager 2." In an update of its information on the interruption of communications with that probe, the US space agency has indicated:

"The agency’s Deep Space Network facility in Canberra, Australia, sent the equivalent of an interstellar “shout” more than 12.3 billion miles (19.9 billion kilometers) to Voyager 2, instructing the spacecraft to reorient itself and turn its antenna back to Earth. With a one-way light time of 18.5 hours for the command to reach Voyager, it took 37 hours for mission controllers to learn whether the command worked. At 12:29 a.m. EDT on Aug. 4, the spacecraft began returning science and telemetry data, indicating it is operating normally and that it remains on its expected trajectory."

This is excellent news. Remember that NASA expects Voyager 2 to remain active until 2025, when its ability to generate electrical power adequate for the continued operation of the scientific instrument will come to an end.

A computer image of Voyager 2. The longest antenna is the Magnetometer (MAG), whose function is to measure changes in the Sun's magnetic field with distance and time (Image: NASA).


Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Una recreación artística de la Voyager 2.

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