NASA's interstellar Voyager 2 probe resumes communication with Earth

An artist's depiction of a Voyager probe entering interstellar space.
An artist's depiction of a Voyager probe entering interstellar space. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Voyager 2 has reestablished communication with Earth and is operating normally.

NASA's long-running Voyager 2 mission, which launched from Earth in 1977 and is currently about 12.4 billion miles (19.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, lost contact with our planet after a set of commands accidentally moved Voyager 2's antenna two degrees away from Earth on July 28.

A "heartbeat" signal was picked up on Tuesday (Aug. 1) according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), letting mission controllers know the probe was still healthy despite being unable to communicate fully with it. Voyager 2 is programmed to automatically reset its orientation a few times a year in case of troubles like this, but the next window would have been in October.

On Friday (Aug. 4), JPL announced in a mission update that NASA's Deep Space Network facility in Canberra, Australia was able to send a command into interstellar space that reoriented the spacecraft and pointed its antenna back towards Earth. Mission controllers had to wait 37 hours to learn if the command was successful. And it was. 

"The spacecraft began returning science and telemetry data, indicating it is operating normally and that it remains on its expected trajectory," JPL said in the statement. 

Related: NASA Voyager 2 spacecraft extends its interstellar science mission for 3 more years

"Can you hear me now? Last night, I reestablished full communications with Earth thanks to some quick thinking and a lot of collaboration. I'm operating normally and remain on my expected trajectory," the Voyager Twitter account wrote in a statement posted to the social media platform on Friday (Aug. 4). "So glad I can finally phone home."

Voyager 2 flew to space from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 20, 1977. After swinging by the four gas giant planets of the solar system between the 1970s and 1990s, it entered interstellar space on Dec. 10, 2018.

Its twin craft Voyager 1 is also operational, flying far away at about 15 billion miles (24 billion km) from Earth. It was the first object to move beyond the gravitational influence of our star, the sun, in 2012.

A diagram showing NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft entering interstellar space in November 2018. (Image credit: NASA /JPL-Caltech)

The missions are slowly losing power from their nuclear radioisotope generators, but engineers have made several alterations to preserve their systems where possible. The heaters have been shut off, for example, and in April 2023 engineers disabled Voyager 2's surge protector (or voltage regulator).

These steps remove a bit of backup for the spacecraft while allowing their power supplies to last longer. The 2023 step alone has postponed one of the instrument shutdowns for Voyager 2 by three years, extending space data collection until at least 2026, officials said at the time.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: