A Message From NASA’s Voyager 2 Some 11.5 Billion Miles Away Finally Reaches Earth After Months Of Silence

MIT Technology Review

Some things are worth waiting for. And in this case, it is a pleasant and rewarding thing. The space probe (unmanned) Voyager 2 has been on a journey in space for over 40 years. All throughout that time, it has stayed in contact with NASA engineers, but in March of this year, NASA closed communications with the space probe. NASA left Voyager 2 incommunicado for several months to upgrade its communication system. It has been left alone since mid-March, cruising along some 11.5 billion miles away from our planet. However, on October 29, after months of radio silence, NASA briefly reconnected with the space probe while testing its new Deep Space Network antennas (DSN). Voyager 2 was on an important scientific mission originally to study the outer planets, but its mission now is to study deep Interstellar Space in general, NASA reported.

According to NASA, Voyager 2 has left the solar system, and is one of the farthest man-made objects from Earth. But, the DSN antennas used to communicate with the spacecraft are quite old, just like the Voyager 2. In fact, it is more than 70 years old. By way of a little bit of history, the system was first created when NASA launched Explorer 1 in 1958, its first satellite. The DSN runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It communicates with about 30 other spacecraft daily, and there are 3 joint sites: the US, Spain, and Australia.

New missions certainly need the DSN upgraded. NASA started its critical work with an antenna denominated Dss43 that is 230 feet wide, and it is located in Canberra, Australia. It has been operational for 48 years, and some of its elements, including the conductor used to communicate with Voyager 2, has never been even tuned-up. Now, NASA has drastically improved Dss43’s heating and cooling equipment, its power supply, and other operation devices. NASA sent a brief message to Voyager 2 last October 29 to test if the upgrades were working.

Sputnik News

Mission control operators transmitted a series of commands to Voyager 2, which in turn executed the order, proving the test was a success. According to Brad Arnold, 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.”  Arnold added, This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we’re doing.”

NASA will once again cut-off communication with Voyager 2 until late next year. So the space probe will once again several more months without communication with ground control. Needless to say, this worries engineers, thankfully there are no humans on board. You could just imagine the magnitude of problems for the spacemen and mission control. The operations manager for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program, Philip Baldwin, said, 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.”

Surely they know what they are doing. Modern science can be mind-boggling, and who knows what technology and wonders will come next. Interstellar travel may still be  a dream, but there is nothing wrong with dreaming.


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