NASA has successfully restored communication with the Voyager 2 spacecraft after an unsettling two-week period during which there was no contact with the probe. On July 21st, the communication was lost due to incorrect planned instructions that caused the probe to misalign by two degrees from Earth. Although the spacecraft was programmed to realign itself automatically on October 15th, NASA scientists acted promptly rather than waiting until that date to determine the spacecraft’s status. Launched in 1977, Voyager 2, along with Voyager 1, is one of just two probes providing crucial data about interstellar space.
In the days following July 21st, the condition of the spacecraft was uncertain. It was not until August 1st that the Deep Space Network’s ground antennas detected a faint carrier signal from the probe. Though too weak to convey any information, this signal was sufficient to verify that Voyager 2 was functional and had not strayed off course.
The ground team at Voyager did not just wait for October, but instead crafted a strategy to send a command across more than 12.3 billion miles, directing the probe to reposition its antenna towards Earth. Demonstrating the immense vastness of space, the transmission of this message to the spacecraft and back took 18.5 hours each way. NASA was then able to start receiving scientific and telemetry data again, confirming that the probe had obeyed the command.
Voyager 2 has faced issues before, such as in 2020 when NASA needed to provide remote assistance to fix a system that had shut off its scientific equipment to save power. The probe made history in 2018 by entering interstellar space, following Voyager 1, making it the second man-made object to achieve this feat. NASA anticipates maintaining contact with both probes until 2036, although they predict that “science data won’t likely be collected after 2025.” Given that the spacecraft may only provide information on interstellar space for under two more years, it is understandable that scientists are eager to maximize every opportunity to receive data from it.