On Friday, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory introduced that that they had misplaced contact with Voyager 2, which is over 12 billion miles from Earth. Engineers on the bottom despatched an incorrect command to the spacecraft July 21 that knocked its antenna 2 levels away from the Earth. That made it not possible for the mission crew to ship or obtain alerts.
However on Tuesday morning, officers from the Deep House Community, a worldwide system used to function quite a few energetic house missions, detected a provider sign from Voyager 2. Meaning the spacecraft continues to be broadcasting, though the sign is just too weak for transmitting knowledge.
Background: An extended, unusual journey by way of the photo voltaic system
Voyager 2 launched to house Aug. 20, 1977, to take a tour of our photo voltaic system’s outer planets. It’s the one spacecraft to have visited Uranus and Neptune, and the second mission to cross the boundary that separates our photo voltaic system from the remainder of the Milky Manner, an space generally known as interstellar house.
This isn’t the primary time NASA has misplaced the power to speak to the spacecraft. In 2020, scientists managing the Deep House Community shut down the only real radio dish able to speaking to Voyager 2 for repairs and upgrades. When it got here again on-line in March 2021, the Voyager 2 was nonetheless functioning.
A couple of weeks after Voyager 2 started its journey, NASA launched its twin, Voyager 1, which adopted a unique trajectory and reached interstellar house first. Mission specialists are nonetheless involved with that spacecraft.
Why It Issues: A mission that simply retains going
Whereas the spacecraft is sort of 46 years into its journey, it continues to provide helpful scientific knowledge about how the setting modifications exterior our photo voltaic system, and the way the heliosphere — a bubble of radiation from our solar — interacts with interstellar house.
But when one thing goes mistaken earlier than scientists get well communications with the spacecraft, they haven’t any manner of fixing it. That’s a much bigger concern than what scientific knowledge is likely to be misplaced within the close to time period, a spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated.
Earlier this yr, Voyager 2 switched to operating its 5 devices on backup energy to extend the lifetime of the mission. Scientists anticipate that one among these devices will should be shut down utterly in 2026, and others in successive years, to maintain the mission functioning for so long as doable.
What’s Subsequent: The folks of Earth can wait
The mission’s managers will try to make use of the Deep House Community on Wednesday to ship Voyager 2 a command to reorient the route of its antenna again towards Earth, in response to the laboratory spokesperson. It’ll take about 18 hours for the sign to reach on the spacecraft, and one other 18 earlier than scientists on Earth will know if it labored.
If the command fails, scientists should wait till Oct. 15. On that day, the mission’s pc is programmed to routinely level the antenna again towards Earth, which they hope will restore communications.
“It’s a 46-year-old spacecraft — we don’t like being out of contact with it,” the spokesperson stated. “However, it’s 46. It’s accomplished nicely thus far. So we now have loads of confidence that it’ll be OK.”