NASA mission operators successfully sent a series of commands to the agency’s Voyager 2 spacecraft for the first time since mid-march. The spacecraft, which was launched in 1977, is currently more than 18 billion kilometers from Earth.
Earlier this year, NASA began a long-overdue upgrade of its Deep Space 43 (DSS43) radio antenna in Canberra, Australia. The 70-meter-wide radio antenna is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, a series of radio antennas around the world that are utilized to communicate with spacecraft operating beyond the Moon.
The upgrades to DSS43 are extensive with work being done on every element of the radio antenna from the pedestal at ground level to the antenna’s two radio transmitters, one of which is utilised to communicate with Voyager 2 and hasn’t been replaced in 47 years.
Voyager 2 had been flying solo for more than seven months before it received the October 29 test signal. Moving forward, the spacecraft will continue to operate largely without receiving additional commands before work on DSS43 is completed in February 2021.
Despite being unable to send signals to Voyager 2, NASA has been able to receive data from the spacecraft. Since DSS43 was taken offline, mission operators have been utilising three 34-meter-wide radio antennas at the Canberra facility in conjunction to capture signals from the far-flung spacecraft.
Voyager 2 is currently around eighteen billion seven hundred ninety-eight million kilometers from Earth. At this distance, the spacecraft has begun to move out of our solar system into interstellar space, a region of space where the Sun’s magnetic field stops affecting its surroundings. Voyager 2 is only the second spacecraft in history to do so following its sister spacecraft, Voyager 1.