After months of downtime in order to install a major and very badly needed upgrade to NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) (the worldwide array of radio dishes used to communicate with planetary probes throughout the solar system) a test command to Voyager-2 beyond the orbit of Pluto was sent, received, and executed successfully this week, proving the upgrade is working.
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.
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.
The upgrade has been overdue for years, and is essential to provide sufficient communications capability for the future interplanetary mission presently planned.
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