Can you stay in interstellar space for about a year with no reply from Earth? Well, that’s the situation of Voyager 2. Dive in to find out more!
After traveling in the interstellar space for about 43 years in space and 11 billion miles from Earth, you could only call the space as your home.
Voyager 2 was launched over 40 years ago, with the main motive being to cross the boundaries of the Solar System. This mission stands NASA’s longest-running space mission.
Well, now its journey is turning more lonesome. NASA recently announced that the only antenna (The antenna Deep Space Station 43 (DSS-43)) sending signals to Voyager 2 is going under upgrade-not for a short time too. Located in Australia and approximately being about the size of a 20 story office, the giant requires critical upgrades the space agency says. It’s not surprising since the Canberra facility has been in excellent service for the past 50 years.
With no signals and messages from the Earth, Voyager 2 will be alone. We expect the repairs to be completed by January 2021, until which the Voyager 2 enters a quiescent mode, specially designed for power conservation and keeping the probe on course until its companion returns.
Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains that they put the spacecraft in a stable state where it’ll be fine and hopes everything usually goes with it during the time the antenna is down. There’s always a chance of things not going often with the aging spacecraft-the onboard fault protection that’s there can handle the situation, he added.
The upgrade makes it only one-way communication. The spacecraft can send its messages to other antennas in Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), which are configured to receive any signals Voyager 2 transmits to the Earth.
Well, it’s a calculated gamble. Even though NASA has made everything it can for the spacecraft’s Blackout, there’s always a fair chance for an unprecedented predicament in the long duration of this historic space mission.
The biggest unknowns are whether the spacecraft’s automated thrust control systems which fire several times a day to keep the probe’s antenna oriented towards Earth–will work accurately for such an extended period and whether power systems designed to keep Voyager 2’s fuel lines sufficiently heated will also do their job.
The new challenge gets added only days after NASA confirmed that the spacecraft resumed normal operations after an anomaly in January triggered Voyager 2’s autonomous fault protection routines.
On January 25th, Voyager 2 failed to perform a scheduled flight maneuver which had to bring in thorough and meticulous assessments from NASA engineers with controllers having to wait 34 hours for every single response from Voyager 2, given the 17-hour transmission time for signals to travel to and from the remote probe NASA confirmed
Fixing up the problem required them to do something they’ve never done before. It involved turning five principal instruments ON and Off, and it worked like a lucky charm.
Like its twin, Voyager 1, it is scientifically confirmed to have entered the interstellar space. Hoping its travel and stay goes well, once the DSS-43 upgrades get complete, the repairs not only improve our communications with Voyager 2 but will future-proof the facility for other upcoming missions, including future Mars missions.
Before that, though, perhaps the most pressing matter will be to reconnect ties with this famous pioneer from decades ago, as it sails ever further away, on its one-way trip to the stars.