For the next year or so, the NASA Deep Space Network's 70-meter-wide (230-feet-wide) radio antenna in Canberra, Australia will have limited functionality is it undergoes critical upgrades. As a result, NASA won't be able to transmit commands 12 billion miles into space to the intrepid Voyager 2 space probe that recently recovered quite beautifully from a glitch. Both Voyager 1 and 2, launched in 1977, are currently hurtling through the interstellar space carrying scientific instruments and a Golden Record ready to be played by any extraterrestrials who might encounter the probes over the next few billion years. From NASA:
The repairs will benefit far more than Voyager 2, including future missions like the Mars 2020 rover and Moon to Mars exploration efforts. The network will play a critical role in ensuring communication and navigation support for both the precursor Moon and Mars missions and the crewed Artemis missions. "The maintenance is needed to support the missions that NASA is developing and launching in the future, as well as supporting the missions that are operating right now," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager and JPL Director for the Interplanetary Network.
The three Canberra 34-meter (111-foot) antennas can be configured to listen to Voyager 2's signal; they just won't be able to transmit commands. In the meantime, said Dodd, the Voyager team will put the spacecraft into a quiescent state, which will still allow it to send back science data during the 11-month downtime.
"We put the spacecraft back into a state where it will be just fine, assuming that everything goes normally with it during the time that the antenna is down," said Dodd. "If things don't go normally – which is always a possibility, especially with an aging spacecraft – then the onboard fault protection that's there can handle the situation."
top image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
above image credit: NASA/Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex