NASA mistakenly severs communication to Voyager 2

Thankfully the probe regularly phones home to fix this sort of mess

Updated NASA revealed on Friday that its venerable Voyager 2 probe is currently incommunicado, because the space agency pointed its antenna in the wrong direction.

By the time the news was released, the antenna on the spacecraft had been pointing two degrees away from the Earth for over a week.

This left it without the ability to receive commands or transmit data to antennae operated by the Deep Space Network (DSN).

NASA reckons the situation is temporary and will not end the probe's nearly 46-year stint in space as it is programmed to recalibrate its position a few times a year. October 15 is the next scheduled reset.

The space org added that Voyager 2's trajectory is expected to remain unchanged. The probe is currently around 19.9 billion kilometers (12.39 billion miles) from Earth, and gets 15km further away every second. The glitch does not impact Voyager 1, which is currently almost 23 billion klicks (14.9 billion miles) away from Earth and hurtling along at 17km/sec while staying in touch with home.

Voyager 2's electrical systems were tweaked earlier this year, in the hope of extending its working life.

If that procedure produces good results, a similar adjustment to Voyager 1 is on the cards.

In 2022, Voyager 1 also experienced telemetry woes. Scientist found it sent back garbled information to Mission Control. It transpired that data was being routed incorrectly by a computer that had not worked for years.

Engineers at that time performed "telesurgery" to correct the issue, which essentially meant commanding the attitude articulation and control system (AACS) to resume sending the data to the right computer. And so the probe carried on.

In the past, engineers have compared keeping the probes operational to keeping an old car running. The tech is severely outdated, yet it keeps ticking over – a trend often seen in the spacecraft of past decades.

But while old cars can be lovingly worked on by hand in real time, the Voyagers are over 20 light hours from Earth, and communication crawls along at a tedious 160 bits per second. ®

Updated to add

A signal from Voyager 2 was detected. More details here.

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