NASA Picks Up Signal From Voyager 2; Engineers Will Try To Command Distant Spacecraft To Fix Error, Regain Contact

Karan Kamble

Aug 01, 2023, 10:58 PM | Updated 10:58 PM IST

This artist's concept shows NASA's Voyager spacecraft against a backdrop of stars. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This artist's concept shows NASA's Voyager spacecraft against a backdrop of stars. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
  • Voyager 2, do you copy?
  • The Voyager 2 spacecraft, which went quiet in interstellar space billions of kilometres from Earth, is still broadcasting, as expected, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a tweet on Tuesday (1 August).

    The JPL is a NASA-funded research and development lab managed by the California Institute of Technology. It manages the Voyager missions, which comprise the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft.

    Taking to Twitter, NASA JPL said a carrier signal from Voyager 2 was picked up by the Deep Space Network during its regular scan of the sky, adding it was “a bit like hearing the spacecraft's "heartbeat.""

    The Deep Space Network is NASA’s international array of giant radio antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions, plus a few that orbit Earth, among its other astronomical duties. It is operated by the JPL.

    In the next step, says NASA JPL, engineers will try to send Voyager 2 a command to point itself back at Earth, in an attempt to re-establish contact.

    Voyager 2 went out of touch after some planned commands sent to the spacecraft on 21 July inadvertently caused the antenna to point 2 degrees away from Earth. A mere 2 degrees off was enough to cut off communication.

    If Voyager 2 doesn’t respond to the command to point itself back at Earth, NASA will have to wait until October for an automatic spacecraft reset to restore communication.

    "Voyager 2 is programmed to reset its orientation multiple times each year to keep its antenna pointing at Earth; the next reset will occur on Oct. 15, which should enable communication to resume," the JPL said earlier.

    Until then, Voyager 2 is expected to remain on its planned trajectory.

    Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 was sent to explore the outer planets, as well as to find and study the edge of the solar system.

    "Voyager 1 and 2 were designed to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment to study the outer solar system up close," NASA says, with Voyager 2 targeting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

    Voyager 2 eventually became the only spacecraft to study all four of the solar system's giant planets at close range.

    In doing so, the spacecraft discovered moons at Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, and also new rings at the latter two planets.

    In December 2018, Voyager 2 joined its twin, Voyager 1, to become the only human-made objects to enter interstellar space — the space between stars.

    It is thought that data from at least some of the six instruments still in operation on Voyager 2 should be received until at least 2025.

    There will come a time when there won't be enough electricity to power even one instrument. "Then," says NASA, "Voyager 2 will silently continue its eternal journey among the stars."

    Voyager 1, at about 24 billion kilometres away the most distant spacecraft from Earth, is still in contact and doing fine.

    Both the Voyager spacecraft are speeding through interstellar space at over 55,000 kilometres per hour.

    The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory.

    Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.

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