Background: An extended, unusual journey by means of the photo voltaic system
Voyager 2 launched to area on 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 area.
This isn’t the primary time NASA has misplaced the power to speak to the spacecraft. In 2020, scientists managing the Deep Area 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 number of weeks after Voyager 2 started its journey, NASA launched its twin, Voyager 1, which adopted a special trajectory and reached interstellar area first. Mission specialists are nonetheless in touch 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 surroundings adjustments exterior of our photo voltaic system, and the way the heliosphere — a bubble of radiation from our solar — interacts with interstellar area.
But when one thing goes fallacious earlier than scientists recuperate communications with the spacecraft, they haven’t any manner of fixing it. That’s an even bigger concern than what scientific knowledge could be misplaced within the close to time period, a spokeswoman for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated.
Earlier this 12 months, Voyager 2 switched to working its 5 devices on backup energy to lengthen the lifetime of the mission. Scientists anticipate that certainly one of these devices will must be shut down fully in 2026, and others in successive years, to maintain the mission functioning for so long as potential.
What’s Subsequent: The folks of Earth can wait
The mission’s managers will try to make use of the Deep Area Community on Wednesday to ship Voyager 2 a command to reorient the course of its antenna again towards Earth, in accordance with the laboratory spokeswoman. It should 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 laptop is programmed to robotically 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 spokeswoman stated. “However, it’s 46. It’s completed effectively to this point. So we now have a variety of confidence that it’ll be OK.”