Voyager 2: Loss of contact caused by a wrong command

14 Aug 2023

NASA sent a set of program commands to Voyager 2. Unfortunately, a mistake crept in somewhere, which was discovered 37 hours later.


That’s how long it took for the radio waves that travel at the speed of light to reach the spacecraft and return feedback.

Contact with the spacecraft launched on August 20, 1977, was lost! Mission controllers soon realized what had happened. As a result of the received (wrong) commands, the spacecraft moved its radio antenna by 2°, which at a distance of 20 billion kilometers is a large directional error.

At the beginning of August, the DSN (Deep Space Network) radio antennas managed to send a series of commands that the spacecraft, it seems, still accepted and is currently carrying out reorientation.

Telemetry data has been received; Voyager 2 is fine, and it also sends scientific data from its active instruments to Earth. Forty-six years after the launch!

This is an important lesson that was successfully and quickly absolved. Let’s remember that in the seventies and eighties of the last century, several important interplanetary missions in the solar system ended in complete or partial failure precisely because of the sending of wrong commands that caused the loss of orientation.

They were, in engineering terms, generational stars similar to Voyagers 1 and 2.

But even in case of several months of lost communication, they have a built-in programs in their computers that periodically, autonomously directs them to Earth. Had this NASA rescue mission failed, Voyager 2 would have repositioned itself properly on October 15 this year.

On the other side of space, the twin spacecraft, Voyager 1, is a full 24 billion kilometers from Earth and operating normally. Everything we know first-hand about the universe outside the influence of the Sun is owed to these machines.

With the advancement of technology and careful planning of aircraft operation, it is expected that we will be able to maintain contact for several more years. Maybe until 2030, or even after that.

The radio transmitter on the Voyagers has a power of only 23W. The most ordinary room fan (not an air conditioner, an ordinary fab) consumes twice or even three times more electricity for its operation!

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