NASA’s sole means of sending commands to the distant space probe, launched 44 years ago, is being restored on Friday.
By Shannon Stirone
Feb. 12, 2021
In the nearly 44 years since NASA launched Voyager 2, the spacecraft has gone beyond the frontiers of human exploration by visiting Uranus, Neptune and, eventually, interstellar space.
Last March, the agency was compelled to shut down its only means of reaching 12 billion miles across the heavens to this robotic trailblazer. On Friday, Earth’s haunting silence will come to an end as NASA switches that communications channel back on, restoring humanity’s ability to say hello to its distant explorer.
Because of the direction in which it is flying out of the solar system, Voyager 2 can only receive commands from Earth via one antenna in the entire world. It’s called DSS 43 and it is in Canberra, Australia. It is part of the Deep Space Network, or DSN, which along with stations in California and Spain, is how NASA and allied space agencies stay in touch with the armada of robotic spacecraft exploring everything from the sun’s corona to the regions of the Kuiper belt beyond the orbit of Pluto. (Voyager 2’s twin, Voyager 1, is able to communicate with the other two stations.)
DSS 43 is a 70-meter dish that has been operating since 1973. It was long overdue for upgrades, especially with new robotic missions headed to Mars this year and even more preparing to launch to study other worlds in the months and years to come. So last year, the dish was switched off and dismantled, even though the shutdown posed considerable risk to the geriatric Voyager 2 probe.