Nasa picked up a “heartbeat” signal from Voyager 2 on Tuesday after it lost contact with the spacecraft billions of kilometers from Earth.
BBC reports that the spacecraft – which has been exploring the universe since 1977 – tilted its antenna incorrectly last month to point two degrees away from the earth after Nasa sent an incorrect command to this spacecraft.
As a result, Voyager 2 has stopped receiving commands from NASA or sending data since July 21.
The spacecraft was launched in 1977 and is currently more than 19.9 billion km from Earth, where it travels through interstellar space – the physical space within a galaxy – at an estimated 55,346 kilometers per hour.
Nasa said on Tuesday that the heartbeat signal – which, due to the spacecraft’s location, took around 18 hours to reach Earth – is a good sign that Voyager is still in good working order.
Earth to Voyager… ????
The Deep Space Network has picked up a carrier signal from @NASAVoyager 2 during its regular scan of the sky. A bit like hearing the spacecraft’s “heartbeat,” it confirms the spacecraft is still broadcasting, which engineers expected. https://t.co/tPcCyjMjJY
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) August 1, 2023
The space agency’s dish in the Australian city of Canberra has been trying to pick up any stray signal from Voyager 2. The antenna, meanwhile, bombards Voyager 2’s area with the correct command in hopes of re-establishing contact with the spacecraft.
If it doesn’t work, Nasa will have to wait until October to make contact with its spacecraft again.
Voyager 2 is programmed to reset its orientation several times each year so that its antenna points toward Earth. The next reset will take place on October 15. Nasa is expected to then be able to resume communication with the spacecraft.
Voyager 2 and its twin Voyager 1 are the only spacecraft to ever operate outside the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields generated by the Sun. These two spacecraft reached interstellar space in 2018 and 2012, respectively, with the aim of studying the outer solar system.
You might have heard… Voyager 2 is taking a break from mission data until October. In the meantime, I’m out here, almost 15 billion miles (24 billion km) from Earth and doing fine! – V1
More info from our team: https://t.co/S3BFRo9Va9
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) July 28, 2023
Additional source: AFP