Voyager 2 spacecraft is going solo for the next 11 months

NASA is performing upgrades to its deep space communication system, which will leave the Voyager 2 probe without commands from Earth for 11 months. The plan is to add new capabilities to NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which requires taking the system offline. During this time, Voyager 2 will continue to explore interstellar space and to send data back to Earth. However, technicians won’t be able to send any commands to the spacecraft.

Voyager 2 did recently suffer a glitch which caused it to use too much power after a failed rotation maneuver. However, that issue was fixed and the craft is now operating as normal.

A quiescent state

Now, in preparation for the upgrades to the Deep Space Network, NASA engineers will put Voyager 2 into a “quiescent state,” in which it does not expect to receive signals and but can send science data back to Earth.

An artist's concept depicts one of NASA's Voyager spacecraft entering interstellar space
This artist’s concept depicts one of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft entering interstellar space, or the space between stars. Interstellar space is dominated by the plasma, or ionized gas, that was ejected by the death of nearby giant stars millions of years ago. NASA/JPL-Caltech

“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,” Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager and JPL Director for the Interplanetary Network, said in a statement. “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.”

To pick up data from Voyager 2, three 111-foot antennas have been configured to listen for its signals. Elsewhere in the network, the 70-meter-wide (230-feet) radio antenna in Canberra, Australia will be upgraded to make it more sensitive and more reliable. “Obviously, the 11 months of repairs puts more constraints on the other DSN sites,” said Jeff Berner, Deep Space Network’s chief engineer. “But the advantage is that when we come back, the Canberra antenna will be much more reliable.”

With the upgrades performed, the DSM will also be able to support future NASA missions such as the planned Moon to Mars project. “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,” Dodd said.

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