SpaceX and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had a rough weekend when their Halloween launch was postponed due to the contamination of the rocket engines. It appears the masking agent used when cleaning some of its parts dripped down and clogged up the vent holes. On the other hand, this was followed by good news when the agency confirmed that it has established contact once more with the Voyager 2 probe.
The last recorded communication with the space probe that was launched by NASA on Aug. 20, 1977, was March earlier this year. After a lengthy eight-month repair and upgrade of the Deep Space Station 43 radio antenna, it finally went back online and transmitted commands to Voyager 2. Experts pointed out that it is now approximately 18.8 billion kilometres from Earth in which it took close to 35 hours before a reply was received by engineers.
"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," noted NASA Jet Propulsion Lab DSN project manager Brad Arnold. "This test communication with Voyager 2 definitely tells us that things are on track with the work we're doing."
The radio antenna that was serviced is called DSS34 and is in Canberra, Australia. A tweet from its official Twitter account read: "For the past 8-months, Deep Space Station 43 has been undergoing upgrades. @NASAVoyager-2 has been waiting for us to be able to send it commands once again. On Friday 30th October, we sent those commands & after a 34hour 48 min round trip time, a "hello" came back!"
According to NASA, they have outfitted the transmission dish with two brand new radio transmitters. Moreover, the engineers also upgraded the cooling, heating, electronics, and power supply. Source confirm that there was nothing wrong in it the first place, but the team opted to proactively replace older components and address issues that could cause it to go down in the future.
When the DSS34 was taken offline for maintenance, NASA confirmed that Voyager 2 regularly sent back data, but operators could not transmit commands. Aside from Voyager 2, it will be used during the Mars Perseverance mission when it lands on the Red Planet in February 2021. Meanwhile, the upcoming Artemis lunar mission will also rely on the installation in 2024.