“Voyager 2, this is the call to Earth. Have you read? “
Last week, the last answer was “yes”. And luckily, after eight months of no contact, Voyager2 seems to be fine.
On October 29, NASA’s Deep Space Network made contact with the Voyager 2 spacecraft for the first time since March this year. The only radio antenna powerful enough to send and receive faint signals from a 43-year-old spacecraft is the 70-meter (230-foot wide) Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra, Australia. But the giant radio went offline for repairs and upgrades.
Last week’s communications were part of a new hardware test, but the upgrade has yet to be completed.
Richard Stephenson said on Twitter: “Work is not done on DSS43. Stephenson worked in Operations at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. “Immediately after confirming a good command link with Voyager 2, the engineering team returned to work on upgrading the structure. The antennas still have to be optimized for the X-Band, which needs clear skies and works for several weeks.
NASA says it expects work to be completed by February 2021. Currently, it takes about 17 hours and 25 minutes for the signal to reach the Voyager 2 and then the same amount of time for the spacecraft. The universe sends the signal back to Earth (You can see current data about the two Voyager spacecraft here.)
During repairs, the Voyager 2 “flew alone,” based on the last commands it received before the Canberra disc went offline. Voyager 2 returns a signal confirming that it has received the “call” and executed the commands without problems.
Among the upgrades to the DSS43 are two new radio transmitters. One of them, used to speak with Voyager 2, has not been replaced in more than 47 years. Engineers have also upgraded the heating and cooling equipment, power supplies and other electronic equipment needed to run the new generators.
“What makes this mission unique is that we are working at all levels of the antenna, from the ground base up to the center load rods that span the horn,” said Brad Arnold. DSN project manager at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This experimental communication with Voyager 2 certainly tells us that things are on track with the work we are doing.”
The Deep Space Network is comprised of evenly spaced radio antenna facilities around the world. They are located in Canberra; Goldstone, California; and Madrid, Spain. The locations of the three facilities ensure that almost any spacecraft with a line of sight to Earth can communicate with at least one of the facilities at any time.
However, the dish in Canberra was the only one capable of communicating with Voyager 2. To fly near Neptune’s moon Triton in 1989, the probe flew over the planet’s north pole. That orbit has deflected it southward from the planets’ plane, and it has been in that direction ever since. Now more than 11.6 billion miles (18.8 billion km) from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it does not have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere.
The upgrades to DSS43 will also benefit other deep space missions, especially for the Perseverance explorer landing on Mars on February 18., Year 2021.