NASA Contacts Voyager 2 – 11.6 Billion Miles From Earth – Using Upgraded Deep Space Station

Deep Space Network

The only radio antenna that can command the 43-year-old spacecraft has been offline since March as it gets new hardware, but work is on track to wrap up in February.

On October 29, 2020, mission operators sent a series of commands to NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft for the first time since mid-March. The spacecraft has been flying solo while the 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) radio antenna used to talk to it has been offline for repairs and upgrades. Voyager 2 returned a signal confirming it had received the “call” and executed the commands without issue.

The call to Voyager 2 was a test of new hardware recently installed on Deep Space Station 43, the only dish in the world that can send commands to Voyager 2. Located in Canberra, Australia, it is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), a collection of radio antennas around the world used primarily to communicate with spacecraft operating beyond the Moon. Since the dish went offline, mission operators have been able to receive health updates and science data from Voyager 2, but they haven’t been able to send commands to the far-flung probe, which has traveled billions of miles from Earth since its 1977 launch.

Deep Space Station 43 Radio Antenna Upgrade

Crews conduct critical upgrades and repairs to the 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) radio antenna Deep Space Station 43 in Canberra, Australia. In this clip, one of the antenna’s white feed cones (which house portions of the antenna receivers) is being moved by a crane. Credit: CSIRO

Among the upgrades to DSS43, as the dish is known, are two new radio transmitters. One of them, which is used to talk with Voyager 2, hasn’t been replaced in over 47 years. Engineers have also upgraded heating and cooling equipment, power supply equipment, and other electronics needed to run the new transmitters.

The successful call to Voyager 2 is just one indication that the dish will be back online in February 2021.

“What makes this task unique is that we’re doing work at all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level all the way up to the feedcones at the center of the dish that extend above the rim,” said Brad Arnold, the DSN project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California. “This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we’re doing.”

Worldwide Network

The Deep Space Network consists of radio antenna facilities spaced equally around the globe in Canberra; Goldstone, California; and Madrid, Spain. The positioning of the three facilities ensures that almost any spacecraft with a line of sight to Earth can communicate with at least one of the facilities at any time.

Voyager 2 is the rare exception. In order to make a close flyby of Neptune’s moon Triton in 1989, the probe flew over the planet’s north pole. That trajectory deflected it southward relative to the plane of the planets, and it has been heading in that direction ever since. Now more than 11.6 billion miles (18.8 billion kilometers) from Earth, the spacecraft is so far south that it doesn’t have a line of sight with radio antennas in the Northern Hemisphere.


Click on this interactive visualization of NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft and take it for a spin Launched in 1977, the spacecraft is now more than 11.6 billion miles (18.8 billion kilometers) from Earth. Trace its dramatic history through Eyes on the Solar System. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

DSS43 is the only dish in the Southern Hemisphere that has a transmitter powerful enough and that broadcasts the right frequency to send commands to the distant spacecraft. Voyager 2’s faster-moving twin, Voyager 1, took a different path past Saturn and can communicate via antennas at the two DSN facilities in the Northern Hemisphere. The antennas must uplink commands to both Voyagers in a radio frequency range called S-band, and the antennas downlink data from the spacecraft in a range called X-band.

While mission operators haven’t been able to command Voyager 2 since DSS43 went offline, the three 34-meter-wide (111-foot-wide) radio antennas at the Canberra facility can be used together to capture the signals that Voyager 2 sends to Earth. The probe is sending back science data from interstellar space, or the region outside our Sun’s heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun that surrounds the planets and the Kuiper Belt (the collection of small, icy bodies beyond Neptune’s orbit).

DSS43 began operating in 1972 (five years before the launch of Voyager 2 and Voyager 1) and was only 64 meters (210 feet) wide at the time. It was expanded to 70 meters (230 feet) in 1987 and has received a variety of upgrades and repairs since then. But the engineers overseeing the current work say this is one of the most significant makeovers the dish has received and the longest it’s been offline in over 30 years.

Deep Space Station 23 Dish

NASA is adding a new dish to its Deep Space Network. This artist’s concept shows what Deep Space Station-23, a new antenna dish capable of supporting both radio wave and laser communications, will look like when completed at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone, California, complex. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The DSS43 antenna is a highly specialized system; there are only two other similar antennas in the world, so having the antenna down for one year is not an ideal situation for Voyager or for many other NASA missions,” said Philip Baldwin, operations manager for NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program. “The agency made the decision to conduct these upgrades to ensure that the antenna can continue to be used for current and future missions. For an antenna that is almost 50 years old, it’s better to be proactive than reactive with critical maintenance.”

The repairs will benefit other missions, including the Mars Perseverance rover, which will land on the Red Planet Feb. 18, 2021. The network will also play a critical role in Moon to Mars exploration efforts, ensuring communication and navigation support for both the precursor Moon and Mars missions and the crewed Artemis missions.

The Deep Space Network is managed by JPL for the SCaN Program, located at NASA Headquarters within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The Canberra station is managed on NASA’s behalf by Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

23 Comments on "NASA Contacts Voyager 2 – 11.6 Billion Miles From Earth – Using Upgraded Deep Space Station"

  1. … Wow!!!

  2. Paul A. Moscarella | November 3, 2020 at 4:38 am | Reply

    An incredible achievement and a credit both to the technicians and engineers who built and maintain the radio antenna. And a big thumbs up to JPL for building a machine that is still operational after all of these years! P-Moscarella/Machinia.ca

  3. Jacques Porche | November 3, 2020 at 10:40 am | Reply

    Thank you so much for keeping an up to date reporting of our space technology exploration. It really makes my day to read about a new breakthrough, enhancement or big decision because, we know where we’ve been and where we are but I LOVE to hear about where we’re all headed.

  4. I remember when the voyager probes were launched . Its impressive that they are still intact and operative after all this time. Even more amazing that we can still communicate with them at such vast a distance . A ture testimony to the men who engineered and built these probes in that era ..showing that old school technology can last..is durable ,works and works well..these younger people need to take note of what we accomplished with next to nothing technology wise with little to go by other than a good education, imagination and natural talent in freedom. And these 1st generation space probes are still going..

  5. Incredible!

  6. This is such hot garbage forreal. how can anybody think this is even not B.S. Ugh SMH

    • The contrary mindset, and closed minded verbiage shows a youth “forreals” out of depth and understanding. Yes we landed on the moon, the earth is not flat and no, you do not know everything.
      To realize you know nothing is the mark of a truly enlightened person. please, light the way..

  7. Billions of miles but when you look it only says like 17 million?

  8. Lmao…..People actually believe this s***

  9. “The Cycle” by Gary Davis

    What if there was nothing but nothing

    No highs or lows or betweens

    Who would be there to observe it

    And who would be there to know what it means?

    Without significance nothing has sense

    And logic and thought need a brain

    Without the observer, there’d be no past tense

    Or present or future domain

    So out of an infinite necessity

    The big bang created its sine qua non

    As nothing realized its non sequitur

    The observer, the observed came to be

    And so the need was acknowledged

    And growth added growth to its cause

    ‘Til finally a child developed

    And significance knew that it was

    As outward the universe expanded

    So too did the child learn to grasp

    Too early to hate or to harm or to kill

    Its beauty was truly the jewel unsurpassed

    But gravity gives to the devil his due

    As the universe halted and slowly fell back

    The child matured past its wisest days

    Toward hatred and war, its entropy grew

    No melody was greater when first wisdom sang

    Its notes partly lost to each singer in time

    As the cycle repeated its regression home

    The universe repeated its endless big bang

  10. “The Cycle” by Gary Davis

    What if there was nothing but nothing

    No highs lows or betweens

    Who would be there to observe it

    And who would be there to know what it means?

    Without significance nothing has sense

    And logic and thought need a brain

    Without the observer, there’d be no past tense

    Or present or future domain

    So out of an infinite necessity

    The big bang created its sine qua non

    As nothing realized its non sequitur

    The observer, the observed came to be

    And so the need was acknowledged

    And growth added growth to its cause

    ‘Til finally a child developed

    And significance knew that it was

    As outward the universe expanded

    So too did the child learn to grasp

    Too early to hate or to harm or to kill

    Its beauty was truly the jewel unsurpassed

    But gravity gives to the devil his due

    As the universe halted and slowly fell back

    The child matured past its wisest days

    Toward hatred and war, its entropy grew

    No melody was greater when first wisdom sang

    Its notes partly lost to each singer in time

    As the cycle repeated its regression home

    The universe repeated its endless big bang

  11. Like the hungry child looking through the restaurant window but knowing they can never partake of what’s beyond. To what end?

  12. Stanley The Fool | November 4, 2020 at 6:40 am | Reply

    Why all the fuss. All they needed was dollar store aluminum foil and couple of 4×4’s from Home Depot or Lowe’s and my old pager.

  13. To what end? To learn. To continue learning with the hope that what we learn today may help move us forward into tomorrow.

  14. I am Nomad, …I am perfect.

    • Makes me wonder if Nomad arrived at Earth today after hypothetically traveling back in time would it declare, “Sterilize imperfection,” and carry out the task. We are a planet populated with massive human imperfection.

  15. You non believers mock the science like you mocked the fat kid in school. Make a trip to JPL don’t forget to bring a mouth guard to protect your face from your foot going in it. A visit is a life changer.When you have lived more days than you have left to live,you will wish you had learned more in the short life we live…

  16. William F. "BILL WOODRUM | November 4, 2020 at 9:29 am | Reply

    I must wonder remarkably of a splinter in my lifes cycle of a beginning I will never reach and a end that will never be. A single never explained conclusion.

  17. William F."bill Woodrum | November 4, 2020 at 9:31 am | Reply

    Thank you

  18. Really am in utter dismay how 43 years they have managed to have a satellite travel 11.xx billion miles but yet can’t send person to moon or better yet its receiving “upgrades”yup almost got me on board!

  19. I would like to keep up dated on voyager 2.

  20. Great work gentleman and ladies. Science and space travel are like our oceans. Always changing and more inviting everyday. Learn all you can, for life is but the twinkling star. Over before the light truly disappear s. I envy voyagers 1 & 2. To explore and discover. That is life.

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