NASA regains contact with Voyager 2 after it went dark for two weeks

The agency 'shouted' a command to the probe across 12.3 billion miles of space.


NASA has reestablished connection with Voyager 2 after a tense two weeks of not hearing anything from the probe. On July 21st, the agency lost contact with Voyager 2 following a series of planned commands that mistakenly pointed it two degrees away from our planet. While it is scheduled to automatically reset its orientation on October 15th, it's not surprising that NASA scientists didn't just wait for that date to know whether the spacecraft is still running. Voyager 2 was launched way back in 1977, and it's one of the only two probes sending us back valuable data on interstellar space.

For a few days after July 21st, NASA wasn't even sure what the spacecraft's condition was. It wasn't until August 1st that multiple ground antennas from the Deep Space Network (DSN) were able to detect a carrier signal from the probe. A carrier signal is what a spacecraft uses to beam data back to the ground, but NASA said the one DSN detected was too weak to be able to transmit any information. Still, it was enough to confirm that Voyager 2 was still working and that it hadn't deviated from its trajectory.

Instead of simply waiting for October, Voyager's ground team decided to take action. They concocted a plan to "shout" a command to the spacecraft across over 12.3 billion miles of space using the DSN, telling it to turn its antenna back to Earth. The whole process illustrated just how vast outer space truly is: It took 18.5 hours for that message to reach the probe, and another 18.5 hours for NASA to start receiving science and telemetry data again, indicating that Voyager 2 had received the command.

This isn't the first time NASA has had issues with the spacecraft. In 2020, it had to provide tech assistance from billions of miles away after it tripped a system that shut off its scientific gear to conserve electricity. Voyager 2 entered interstellar space — that means it exited the plasma bubble created by our sun — back in 2018, becoming the second human-made object to do so after Voyager 1. Although NASA believes that both Voyager 1 and 2 could remain in contact with the DSN until 2036, it also says that "science data won't likely be collected after 2025." The spacecraft could only be providing us information on interstellar space for less than two years, so it stands to reason that scientists don't want to waste a single day it can send data back to Earth.