Lost contact with Voyager

August 1, 2023
Photo of stars

The mission team was able to detect the ‘carrier signal’ from the spacecraft – it’s essentially the signal it uses to send data back to Earth.

A representative from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory after NASA regained a signal from Voyager 2, NASA’s longest-running mission.

The Big Picture: After losing contact with its Voyager 2 probe, NASA has picked up a "carrier signal" from the spacecraft; NASA calls this signal the spacecraft's "heartbeat." The recovered signal is still too faint to transmit data, but it shows that the spacecraft is still operating.

NASA lost contact with the space probe (an "[unmanned] spacecraft that travels through space to collect science information") on July 21, while it was located almost 12.4 billion miles from Earth. CBS News reports, "Contact was disrupted when a series of planned commands on July 21 accidentally caused the antenna to point 2 degrees away from Earth, NASA said."

Why It Matters: Engineers at NASA are now trying to send a signal for Voyager 2 to point itself back towards Earth. If this doesn't work, communications may not resume until October. According to CBS News, "A scheduled orientation reset is programmed for Oct. 15. NASA said it believes the orientation reset, which is designed to keep Voyager 2's antenna pointed at Earth, should allow communication to resume."

NASA says Voyager 2 is set to stay on its planned course until October 15th. According to Insider, "Usually, Voyager 2 transmits its data in real time because it only has a small amount of onboard memory. If the agency can't access its data, it could mean the end of its 46-year-old mission."

What is Voyager 2? Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 and its twin Voyager 1 "are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before" (NASA). Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have studied all four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) in the solar system at a close range. In 2018, Voyager 2 joined Voyager 1 and entered interstellar space, or "the area between the stars" (Space.com). Both spacecraft send scientific information back to NASA about their surroundings.

Read More:

NASA accidentally lost contact with its Voyager 2 probe after sending a wrong command. It could mean the end of its 46-year-old mission

Read More about Voyager 1 & 2:

Mission Overview

Voyager 2

by Jenna Lee,