After mistakenly cutting contact, NASA detects ‘heartbeat’ signal from Voyager 2 spacecraft

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Cape Canaveral: Flight controllers accidentally sent a wrong command nearly two weeks ago to NASA’s Voyager 2 in interstellar space billions of kilometres away.

The command, which tilted the spacecraft’s antenna away from Earth, severed its contact with NASA.

An artist’s rendering of the NASA Voyager spacecraft.Credit: AP

Until this week.

Project manager Suzanne Dodd said in an email on Tuesday that NASA’s Deep Space Network, giant radio antennas across the globe, has picked up a “heartbeat signal”, meaning the 46-year-old craft is alive and operating.

The news “buoyed our spirits,” Dodd said.

Flight controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California will now try to turn Voyager 2’s antenna back toward Earth.

If the command doesn’t work — and controllers doubt it will — they’ll have to wait until October for an automatic spacecraft reset. The antenna is only 2 per cent off-kilter.

“That is a long time to wait, so we’ll try sending up commands several times” before then, Dodd said.

Voyager 2 rocketed into space in 1977, along with its identical twin Voyager 1, on a quest to explore the outer planets.

Still communicating and working fine, Voyager 1 is now 24 billion kilometres from Earth, making it the most distant spacecraft.

Voyager 2 trails its twin in interstellar space at more than 19 billion kilometres from Earth. At that distance, it takes more than 18 hours for a signal to travel one way.


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