NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft are still chugging along out of the solar system, despite the fact they were launched more than 43 years ago. And while both robotic explorers have their problems, the Voyagers do still have some functioning instruments, with the two craft periodically beaming useful data back to Earth.
Voyager 2 is currently about 125 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, where 1 AU is the average Earth-Sun distance. That’s about three times farther away than Pluto, which means that any radio signals Voyager 2 sends take about 17 hours and 25 minutes to reach Earth. And add another 17+ hours if ground control wants to send back a response. Voyager 1 is even further away; the spacecraft is almost 151 AU from the Sun. That equates to about 21 hours of travel time for a one-way communication. Despite the long distance, researchers and flight controllers commonly touch base with the Voyagers. But in March 2020, the cord was cut, so to speak. That’s because NASA needed to carry out repairs on the only radio dish that can serve as a cosmic megaphone to the craft — a 230-foot-wide (70 meter) antenna in Canberra, Australia, known as DSS-43. For seven months, Voyager 2 was able to still transmit data to Earth, but it could not receive communications. Then, on October 29, 2020, NASA felt that DSS-43, while not completely repaired, was up to the challenge of screaming across the solar system once again. They sent a test signal from the dish to Voyager 2 that included specific commands for the spacecraft to execute. Voyager 2 later radioed back that it indeed received the message and successfully carried out its instructions — a testament to not only the longevity of the spacecraft itself, but also both the power of DSS-43 and its peers. #nasa #astronomy #science
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