NASA hears Voyager’s ‘heartbeat’ after loss of contact

voyager 2

WASHINGTON: NASA has received a signal from spacecraft Voyager 2, which it accidentally lost contact with on July 21.

Voyager 2 was seemingly unable to receive commands or transmit data back to mission controllers, after NASA accidently sent it a command causing its antenna to point two degrees away from Earth.

However, the space agency revealed on Tuesday that during its regular scan of the sky, its Deep Space Network managed to receive a signal, described as “a bit like hearing the spacecraft’s heartbeat’”, confirming that Voyager 2 is still broadcasting as expected.

While the heartbeat signal has reassured NASA that the probe is still working, it is not yet responding to new commands. Engineers are now planning to send commands to try to make it point the antenna back toward Earth.

The spacecraft is so far from Earth that even at the speed of light software commands take 18 hours to reach the probe.

“If that does not work, we’ll have to wait until October, when the spacecraft’s onboard software automatically tells it to reset its direction,” NASA said.

The Voyager program launched in 1977 and is currently around 19.9 billion kilometers from Earth. In 1998, NASA switched off the spacecraft’s nonessential instruments to save power.

It is thought that data from at least some of the still-functioning instruments will be able to be received until at least 2025, but this depends on the resumption of regular communication.

In August 2012, Voyager 1 made history when it entered into interstellar space. Voyager 2 followed in November 2018. The twin probes have reached unprecedented distances ever since.

The primary mission focused on exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 went on to take a close look at Uranus and Neptune, and it is the only spacecraft to have ever visited these outer planets.

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