After DSS 43 antenna in Canberra repair and one full year of silence NASA could communicate again with its Voyager 2 probe, which was sent in space 44 years ago and is now outside the solar system. Because of the direction in which it is flying out of the solar system, Voyager 2 can only receive commands from Earth via one antenna in the entire world, from Canberra. A round-trip communication with Voyager 2 takes about 35 hours, 17 hours and 35 minutes each way. DSS 43 is a 70-meter dish that has been operating since 1973. It was long overdue for upgrades, especially with new robotic missions headed to Mars this year and even more preparing to launch to study other worlds in the months and years to come. Restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic reduced the restauration team to four. Voyager 2 was able to call home on the Canberra site’s smaller dishes during the shutdown but none of them could send commands to the probe.
“The DSN folks in Canberra did a remarkable job under the pandemic conditions just to upgrade DSS 43,” said Suzanne Dodd, the Voyager mission project manager and director of the Interplanetary Network Directorate at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The scientists are preparing now to switch off one of its scientific sensors, the Low Energy Charged Particle instrument. This will ensure that the spacecraft’s limited power supply can keep its other systems, particularly its communications antenna, warm enough to function. The main goal now for the mission is longevity. The team estimates Voyager 2 can operate for another four to eight year.