NASA has reestablished full communications with the Voyager 2 probe on August 4, 2023. Through the Deep Space Network facility in Canberra, Australia, the agency sent an interstellar command to the probe, instructing it to reorient and aim its antenna back toward Earth. After 37 hours, Voyager 2 began transmitting scientific and telemetry data, indicating it is operating normally and on its expected trajectory.
Explanation and In-depth Analysis
On July 21, 2023, a series of planned commands sent to Voyager 2 inadvertently caused the antenna to deviate 2 degrees away from Earth, thereby interrupting communication with NASA’s Deep Space Network ground antennas. The probe, located more than 12.3 billion miles from Earth, stopped receiving commands and transmitting data. The team made an intermediary attempt while the antenna was still pointed away from Earth, using a DSN antenna to “shout” the command to Voyager. Although the wait to confirm the success of the command was lengthy, due to the interstellar distance, communication was successfully reestablished in the end.
Welcome back, Voyager 2.@NASA has reestablished full communications with Voyager 2. We shouted 12.5 billion miles (19.9 billion km) into interstellar space, instructing it to turn its antenna back to Earth – and after 37 hours, we found out it worked! https://t.co/bJDKh6Icg5 https://t.co/wQh5JfmLfP— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) August 4, 2023
Past Problems – Another Challenge for Voyager
However, this is not the first time the Voyager program has encountered difficulties. Exactly a year ago, NASA faced a mysterious data glitch with Voyager 1. After months of transmitting incomprehensible data about its health, engineers discovered that Voyager 1’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) was sending telemetry through a computer known to have stopped working.
The solution was surprising but effective. They simply sent a command to direct the AACS system to the correct computer, a low-risk fix but time-consuming, given the distance of 14.6 billion miles from Earth. With this problem solved, a new mystery emerged: what caused it in the first place? Engineers suspect a bad command from another onboard computer, suggesting further issues within Voyager 1’s computer systems.
Future of Voyager
The reconnection with Voyager 2 is not just a technical victory, but a crucial step in continuing to explore and gather data from the edge of our solar system. Voyager 2 is programmed to reset its orientation multiple times each year, and the next reset will occur on October 15, ensuring continued communication. With Voyager 1 continuing to operate normally, these historic missions press on in providing an unprecedented view of the universe, as NASA and other global partners look to the future of interstellar exploration.
Canberra Deep Space Network’s DSS-43 antenna, blasting out a message to V2 this morning in the hopes that one of the HGA side lobes can detect it and re establish communications. Confirmation, if any, will come back 37+ hours later. 📡📞⏲⏳— NSFVoyager2 (@NSFVoyager2) August 3, 2023
📷: CanberraDSN/CSIRO pic.twitter.com/4b55bebqdA