«I think maybe there was a big sigh there,» said Mr. Nagley. «And we were very happy to be able to confirm that the spacecraft is still talking to us.»
The work received high marks from NASA officials in the United States.
«The DSN personnel in Canberra did an amazing job under pandemic conditions just to upgrade DSS 43,» said Susan Dowd, Voyager Mission Project Manager and Interplanetary Network Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. «I have 100 percent confidence in this antenna, that it will work fine for a few more decades. The long past is when Voyagers are over.»
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 both hold the records for the longest distance a spacecraft has ever traveled and for the longest operational mission. Voyager 2 has had some hiccups over the years, but it still feels its way in the dark. Discoveries about the boundaries that separate our solar system from the rest of the Milky Way.
«I’ve seen scientists from astrophysical backgrounds now look at Voyager data and try to match that with the data they have from ground-based or other space telescopes,» said Ms. Dodd. «It’s exciting to go from a planetary mission to a solar physics mission and now, practically, to an astrophysics mission.»
As Voyager 2 continues to shout, Ms. Dodd and her colleagues prepare to turn off one of the scientific sensors, the charged low-energy particle instrument. Doing so will ensure that the spacecraft’s limited power supply can keep its other systems, especially its communications antenna, warm enough to function.
While this would reduce the spacecraft’s scientific production, the main goal now is longevity.
«The challenge is not new technology, or great discoveries,» said Ms. Dodd. «The challenge is to keep it running for as long as possible, and to return scientific data for as long as possible.»
The team estimates that both spacecraft could operate for another four to eight years, and last year NASA gave the team three more years of flight time.