Voyager 2

Are You There?! NASA Sent A Message To Voyager 2 After A Long Radio Silence.

NASA’s Voyager Program has always maintained its aura for being one of the most exciting missions ever undertaken by the space agency. Since their launch in 1977,  Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have never failed to steal the limelight. And see, keeping up with the same tradition,  Voyager 2 is again in news!

Voyager 2 NASA
An artist’s concept of NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft. Credit: NASA

An Overview of Voyager 2 And Its Journey:

With an aim to explore our solar system and beyond, Voyager 2 was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in July 1977. During its ongoing Voyage,  the spacecraft had its stops at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, before delving into the ultimate silence of interstellar space.

On its way, the powerful robot took some stunning shots of the entire Jovian system, Saturn’s rings and Neptune’s great dark spot, etc. to name a few. Voyager 2 also found shreds of evidence of an ocean of boiling water about 500 miles beneath Uranus’ cloud tops. Eventually,  after a spectacular journey of 41 years,  the spacecraft was announced to have entered the unfathomed interstellar space in December 2018. 

This photograph of the southern hemisphere of Jupiter was obtained by the spacecraft on 25 June 1979, at a distance of 8m miles (12m km). Seen in front of the turbulent clouds of the planet is Io, the innermost of the large Galilean satellites of Jupiter. Io is the size of our moon
Photograph: JPL/Nasa
This photograph of the southern hemisphere of Jupiter was obtained by the spacecraft on 25 June 1979, at a distance of 8m miles (12m km). Seen in front of the turbulent clouds of the planet is Io, the innermost of the large Galilean satellites of Jupiter. Io is the size of our moon
Photograph: JPL/Nasa

Since then, the spacecraft has been beaming back data from its five active instruments onboard, while traveling through interstellar space. To know more about the journey of the twin spacecraft, starting from their launch to their entry into interstellar space, read:

What Voyager 1 saw in its cosmic journey of 43 years ?
What Voyager 2 saw in its cosmic journey of 43 years?

So, Where’s The Big News?

In March 2020, NASA started working in the direction of upgrading the big radio dish in Australia that is used to beam commands to Voyager 2. Due to this, the radio dish that acted as a communication channel between the spacecraft and the earth-based systems went offline for repairs and upgrades.

The ongoing maintenance work is undoubtedly very extensive. It involves the addition of two new radio transmitters, including one that is already used to communicate with Voyager 2,  among some other things. This had led to a nearly complete cut-off of communication between the spacecraft and its handlers.

Are You There?! NASA Sent A Message To Voyager 2 After A Long Radio Silence. 2
Crews conduct critical upgrades and repairs to the 230-foot-wide (70 meters) Deep Space Station 43 radio antenna in Canberra, Australia. In this image, one of the antenna’s white feed cones, which house portions of the antenna receivers, is being moved by a crane.
(Image: © CSIRO)

However, last Thursday on October 29,  NASA sent a message to its deserted spacecraft for the first time in seven months of inactivity. Voyager 2’s handlers beamed a set of test commands to the spacecraft, which the spacecraft registered and executed successfully without any failure.

The DSN is a network of radio dishes in three different, roughly equidistant locations,  that are Canberra; Madrid, Spain; and Goldstone, California. NASA uses these facilities to communicate not only with its far flung Voyager 2,  but with several other spacecrafts as well.

The Canberra site which includes three smaller dishes together helps to receive the spacecraft’s relays. Since Voyager 2 is now moving downwards relative to Earth’s orbital plane, so it cannot be hailed using DSN gear in Spain and California. Rather, it can be reached only from the Southern Hemisphere.

It is worth noting that the transmitter under service hasn’t been replaced in more than 47 years. So, its upgrade is definitely the need of an hour without any second thoughts. The repair and up-gradation work is scheduled to wrap up in February 2021 and is expected to benefit communications with a wide range of NASA spacecraft.

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