NASA has restored full communications with its Voyager 2 spacecraft following weeks of silence.
The agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Friday that NASA’s Deep Space Network facility in Canberra, Australia, sent the “equivalent of an interstellar ‘shout’ more than 12.3 billion miles to Voyager 2,” commanding the spacecraft to turn its antenna back to Earth.
“With a one-way light time of 18.5 hours for the command to reach Voyager, it took 37 hours for mission controllers to learn whether the command worked,” the scientists said in an update.
Shortly before 12:30 a.m. EDT Friday, the spacecraft began returning science and telemetry data.
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The “Sounds of Earth” record is mounted on the Voyager 2 spacecraft in the Safe-1 Building at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., prior to encapsulation in the protective shroud. (AP Photo/NASA)
This development indicates it is operating normally and that it remains on its expected trajectory.
“I just sort of sighed. I melted in the chair,” project manager Suzanne Dodd told The Associated Press. She said the two-week outage was believed to be the longest NASA had gone without hearing from Voyager 2.
“So glad I can finally phone home,” the NASA X account for Voyager 2 wrote in a social media post.
NASA previously said the Deep Space Network radio antennas had picked up a “heartbeat” carrier signal, confirming that the spacecraft was still broadcasting.
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Artist concept showing NASA’s Voyager spacecraft against a backdrop of stars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
If the command to Voyager 2 hadn’t worked, NASA would have had to wait until October, when Voyager 2’s onboard software automatically tells it to reset its direction.
Voyager 2 is programmed to reset its orientation multiple times each year to keep its antenna pointing at Earth. The next reset will occur Oct. 15.
JPL initially said a series of planned commands on July 21 had “inadvertently” caused the antenna to point two degrees away from Earth.
The action resulted in Voyager 2 being unable to receive commands or transmit data back to Earth.
Voyager 1 and its identical sister craft Voyager 2 were launched in 1977 to study the outer solar system and eventually interstellar space. (NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Voyager 2 is located more than 12 billion miles from Earth and first launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in August 1977, along with the twin Voyager 1.
Voyager 1 is around 15 billion miles away from Earth.
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Dodd says the Voyagers may be alive and well for the 50th anniversary of their launch in 2027.
“We’ve been very clever over the last 10 years to eke out every single little watt,” she said. “Hopefully, one of them will make it to 50. But they are old, and certainly events like this one that just happened scare the dickens out of me, as far as making that type of a milestone.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.