NASA has resumed communication with the orbital spacecraft, which set a record after several months, without the possibility of establishing contact with Voyager 2.
(Photo: NASA-JPL / Caltech)
This was Voyager 2 when it was assembled at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida back in 1977. 40 years later, a spacecraft has reached the edge of our solar system.
The collapse of the connection, which lasted for almost eight months and the entire pandemic after March, was not attributed to any invalid errors, nor to any encounters with external space anomalies (although that also exists).
In this example it was more a case of regular maintenance. And then, given that Voyager 2 is one of the most distant flying objects made from Earth, leaving behind a planet and actually the entire solar system, nothing else is actually normal.
In March 2020, ScienceAlert reported that NASA had declared that Deep Space Station 43 (DSS-43) in Australia, the only transmitter on Earth capable of transmitting commands to Voyager 2, required important changes that would have to close almost 11 months of work that should be completed.
Voyager 2, which is actually more than 18.7 billion kilometers (11.6 billion miles) away from Earth and is moving further and further, will not be able to receive any signals from Earth during this era, while scientists will continue to transmit their own transmissions back on us.
Welcome back, Voyager 2!
Fortunately, NASA announced that Voyager 2 returned a signal acknowledging receipt of the guidelines and that it implemented the commands without a problem.
Currently, the reconstruction of the DSS-43 is still ongoing and is scheduled to be completed in February 2021, but enough improvements have been installed to begin preliminary research.
Although NASA was unable to deliver complete orders to Voyager 2, in late October, when the antenna was mostly reassembled, it sent one test message to the spacecraft. A system on board called a command loss timer is used to help the spacecraft decide if it has lost contact with Earth and entering some type of electronic sleep can be secured. The October test reset the timer and the spacecraft was successfully ordered to start operating.
“What makes this task unique is that we work on all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level, all the way to feeding in the center of a vessel that extends above the edge,” says NASA’s Deep Space Network Project Manager Brad Arnold.
“This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are ongoing with the work we’re doing.”
Suzanne Dodd, project manager for the Voyager mission and head of the Interplanetary Network Directorate of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the New York Times that people from DSN in Canberra did an outstanding job under pandemic circumstances just to update DSS 43.
She also shared her ultimate faith in the antenna that it would work quite perfectly for a few more decades. Far away from Voyager until they’re done.
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Records of the most distant spacecraft ever flown and for the longest-running mission are Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Over the years Voyager 2 has seen several hiccups, but in the dark it always finds its way, making observations of the boundaries that separate our planetary system from most of the Milky Way galaxy.
While Voyager 2 is still kissing, Ms. Dodd and her team plan to turn off a low-cost charged particle device, one of their scientific sensors. This would ensure that the spacecraft’s low power supply would keep other systems warm enough to operate, especially its telecommunications transmitter.
Although it will reduce the scientific performance of the spacecraft, survival is now a key priority.
The team expects both spacecraft to operate for another four to eight years, and NASA awarded the team another three years of flight last year.
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