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Cosmic Rescue! NASA Restores Full Communications with Voyager 2

By Mara Lafontaine · August 5, 2023

In brief…

  • NASA lost communication with the Voyager 2 spacecraft July 21 due to an accidental two-degree rotation of its antenna.
  • Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 is now over 12.4 billion miles away from Earth
  • The spacecraft has been pivotal in learning about our solar system.
  • A faint signal was picked up from Voyager-2 on August 1.
  • On August 4, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that full communication with Voyager-2 had been restored.
Neptune - taken by Voyager-2 in 1989  NASA on The Commons, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On July 21, NASA lost communication with the Voyager-2 spacecraft. The error occurred when NASA sent a series of commands to Voyager-2 that accidentally caused its antenna to rotate two degrees, knocking it out of contact with mission control. Yesterday, full communication with the spacecraft was successfully restored.

Voyager Project Manager Dr. Suzanne Dodd voiced her anxieties earlier this week before communications were reestablished with the spacecraft, telling NPR, “It’s been very stressful. I think it’s disheartening to know that… we’ve worked so long with this spacecraft that it might be in jeopardy now… And to have this kind of issue happen… It’s scary. It’s disheartening. We’re hopeful that all the built-in checks that we put into the software will work, but you never know 100%. So, it’s kind of a little bit on pins and needles and pretty nervous, actually.”  

Launched in 1977, Voyager-2 has made possible some of the most important discoveries about our solar system. It is now more than 12.4 billion miles away in a desolate part of space. “It’s very, very dark, very, very cold where Voyager is,” said Dodd. “There’s nothing to take pictures of. We’ve stopped taking pictures since we went past Neptune.” 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that Voyager-2 is programmed to reset its orientation multiple times each year in case of accidents like the one that occurred last month. Its next reset is scheduled for October 15.

A Jet Propulsion Laboratory statement following reestablishment of communications Voyager-2 read: “The agency’s Deep Space Network facility in Canberra, Australia, sent the equivalent of an interstellar “shout” more than 12.3 billion miles (19.9 billion kilometers) to Voyager-2, instructing the spacecraft to reorient itself and 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. At 12:29 a.m. EDT on Aug. 4, the spacecraft began returning science and telemetry data, indicating it is operating normally and that it remains on its expected trajectory.”

Mission accomplished!