This week, NASA’s Deep Space Network, which consists of giant radio antennas around the world, picked up a carrier signal from the spacecraft — or what the mission team likened to a “heartbeat” that was too faint to pinpoint the probe but confirmed it was still operating, the U.S. space agency said.
So, engineers tried to send the spacecraft a command to orient itself back at Earth, and they used the highest-powered transmitter at NASA’s huge dish in the Australian capital, Canberra, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the Voyager missions.
It may have been a long shot, but they heard back. “We shouted 12.3 billion miles into interstellar space, instructing it to turn its antenna back to Earth,” the laboratory said Friday. “And after 37 hours, we found out it worked!”
NASA said its Deep Space Network facility in Canberra “sent the equivalent of an interstellar ‘shout’” to Voyager 2 — a round-trip communication that required some 18.5 hours each way, for the command to reach the probe and to hear back.
“The spacecraft began returning science and telemetry data, indicating it is operating normally and that it remains on its expected trajectory,” NASA said in its latest update.
“I just sort of sighed. I melted in the chair,” project manager Suzanne Dodd told the Associated Press. The two-week silence was thought to be the longest NASA went without hearing from Voyager 2.
If its efforts had not succeeded, the team would have had to wait for the 46-year-old probe to automatically reset its direction in October.
Voyager 2, whose launch anniversary is this month, took off in 1977 to sail across the solar system and in 2018 entered interstellar space, the region between the sun’s heliosphere and the astrospheres of other stars. It is the only spacecraft ever to fly by Neptune and Uranus, while its twin, Voyager 1, now nearly 15 billion miles away, is the most distant spacecraft from Earth.