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NASA accidentally loses contact with legendary Voyager 2 spacecraft

An artist's concept of the Voyager 2 spacecraft
An artist’s concept of the Voyager 2 spacecraft NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has lost contact with the legendary Voyager 2 spacecraft after “inadvertently” sending it a command that caused the antenna to point 2 degrees away from Earth.

The error means that Voyager 2, which launched in 1977 and is currently around 12.4 billion miles (19.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, is unable to receive commands or transmit data back to mission controllers.

“This change has interrupted communication between Voyager 2 and the ground antennas of the Deep Space Network (DSN),” NASA explained. “Data being sent by the spacecraft is no longer reaching the DSN, and the spacecraft is not receiving commands from ground controllers.”

NASA only revealed the mishap on Friday despite losing contact with the spacecraft seven days earlier.

The good news is that a reorientation maneuver that Voyager 2 performs multiple times a year “should enable communication to resume,” the space agency said, adding that it expects Voyager 2 to remain on its planned trajectory until then.

NASA’s trusty spacecraft has been flying through space for the last 46 years. In 1998, engineers turned off Voyager 2’s nonessential instruments to enable it to conserve power. Data from at least some of the six instruments still in operation should be able to be received until at least 2025 — provided the communications link is reestablished in a few months’ time, that is.

Voyager 2 has visited all four gas giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus — and is the only spacecraft to have visited Neptune and Uranus. Its flyby of Neptune in 1989 put it on a trajectory that delivered it to interstellar space in November 2018.

If the recent blunder has left you feeling concerned about the state of Voyager 1, which is almost 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth after also launching in 1977, then rest assured — the spacecraft “continues to operate normally,” NASA said.

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Trevor Mogg
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