Skip to main content

NASA hears Voyager ‘heartbeat’ as it tries to reconnect with spacecraft

NASA has received a signal from the Voyager 2 spacecraft that it accidentally lost contact with on July 21.

Communications with the famous spacecraft, which launched in 1977 and is currently around 12.4 billion miles (19.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, were cut after NASA “inadvertently” sent it a command that caused its antenna to point 2 degrees away from Earth.

It means that Voyager 2 is seemingly unable to receive commands or transmit data back to mission controllers on Earth.

NASA said this week that contact should be re-established in October when Voyager 2 reorients itself as part of a regular maneuver. But there’s now hope that the communication link could be restored much sooner.

The space agency revealed on Tuesday that during its regular scan of the sky, its Deep Space Network managed to receive a signal — described as “a bit like hearing the spacecraft’s heartbeat’” — from Voyager 2, confirming that the spacecraft is still broadcasting as expected.

Engineers are now planning to send a command to Voyager 2 to try to make it point the antenna back toward Earth. “If that does not work, we’ll have to wait until October, when the spacecraft’s onboard software automatically tells it to reset its direction,” NASA said.

Earth to Voyager… 📡
The Deep Space Network has picked up a carrier signal from @NASAVoyager 2 during its regular scan of the sky. A bit like hearing the spacecraft's “heartbeat," it confirms the spacecraft is still broadcasting, which engineers expected.

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) August 1, 2023

Commenting on the unfolding situation, Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager, said: “We enlisted the help of the [Deep Space Network] and Radio Science groups to help to see if we could hear a signal from Voyager 2. This was successful in that we see the ‘heartbeat’ signal from the spacecraft. So, we know the spacecraft is alive and operating. This buoyed our spirits.”

Voyager 2 has been hurtling away from Earth for the last 46 years. In 1998, engineers switched off the spacecraft’s nonessential instruments so that it could save power. It’s thought that data from at least some of the still-functioning instruments will be able to be received until at least 2025, though this of course depends on the resumption of regular communication.

Voyager 2 launched just a few months before Voyager 1, which is still operational and in touch with NASA. Both spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before.

In August 2012, Voyager 1 made history when it entered into interstellar space, followed by Voyager 2 in November 2018.

The primary mission focused on the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 went on to take a close look at Uranus and Neptune and is the only spacecraft to have ever visited these outer planets. It’s now set to explore the outermost edge of the sun’s domain, and further still. We’re just hoping it can reconnect with Earth so that it sends back its discoveries.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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.

Read more
Trio of Orion spacecraft prepped for NASA moon missions
Three NASA Orion spacecraft in production.

NASA has shared an image of three spacecraft that will play a central role in its next three Artemis missions to the moon.

Having already successfully tested the Orion spacecraft on a lunar flyby at the end of last year after being blasted into space by NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket, the American space agency is now overseeing the building of three more Orion capsules for upcoming Artemis missions.

Read more
See and hear Stephan’s Quintet in a whole new way with NASA visualizations
A new visualization explores the galaxy group Stephan's Quintet by using observations in visible, infrared, and X-ray light. The sequence contrasts images from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, Spitzer Space Telescope, Webb Space Telescope, and Chandra X-ray Observatory to provide insights across the electromagnetic spectrum.

One of the first targets observed by the James Webb Space Telescope when it began science operations last year was Stephan's Quintet, a group of five galaxies locked close together in a complex structure. Now, that data from Webb has been combined with data from other telescopes to give a new view of this special object -- and even to create a way to listen to it.

The project used the infrared data from Webb combined with visible light, X-ray, and other infrared observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. By combining all these different views of the same object, researchers were able to create a 3D view of the group which is visualized in a video:

Read more