NASA has successfully communicated with the Voyager 2 probe after an eight-month hiatus.
The long break in conversation was due to necessary maintenance work on the only Earthly antenna capable today of sending signals to the probe, an effort that until now paused communications with Voyager 2.
The antenna in question is named Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43) and is located just outside Canberra, Australia's capital city. The facility's 70-metre-wide main dish is 48 years old, and the only antenna of that size in the southern hemisphere. As Voyager 2 is heading southwards compared to Earth's orbital plane, only a dish south of the equator can send the probe a sufficiently powerful signal.
NASA started a refresh of the dish's electrical cabling, power supply, and cooling systems in March. The maintenance effort also saw the installation of a new X-band frequency cone that improved the facility's sensitivity. Doing so required a crane capable of hoisting the three-tonne cone to a height of 20 stories. Here's a vid of that effort:
The cone was installed in early May. And on Monday this week, NASA revealed that on October 29 the rig was used to send a command to Voyager 2, and the craft responded.
Which is no mean feat given that Voyager 2 is more than 18,750,000,000km from Earth and getting further away at a rate of about 60,000km/h. The probe launched on 20 August 1977, and is still just 17 light-hours away.
The job of upgrading DSS43 is not over, though the success of that Voyager 2 chat has left astroboffins confident they'll wrap things up in line with their planned February 2021 deadline.
Which will be just in time for the arrival of the Perseverance Rover on Mars, another mission DSS43 will handle along with its normal duties of staying in touch with other space probes. ®