Facepalm: NASA accidentally instructed Voyager 2 to reposition its antennas away from Earth, and it could be months before the space agency is able to reestablish a solid communication link with the spacecraft.
On July 21, a series of planned operations were sent to the distant space probe. Unfortunately, the commands inadvertently caused the craft to shift its position ever so slightly. The two degree move away from Earth left the probe unable to receive signals or transmit data with the ground antennas of the Deep Space Network.
NASA's Voyager 2 probe launched in 1977 along with its twin, Voyager 1. It launched 16 days before Voyager 1 and was originally commissioned as a five year mission to study Jupiter and Saturn. The probe eventually conducted flybys of Uranus and Neptune, entered interstellar space in 2018 (Voyager 1 did so in 2012), and is still providing useful data all these years later.
NASA is not writing off Voyager 2 just yet. The agency programmed the probe to reset its orientation multiple times each year, perhaps for instances just like this. The next scheduled reset is slated for October 15 and should everything go smoothly, two way communication should resume at that point. Until then, NASA expects the probe to continue on its current trajectory without incident.
A recent Twitter post from the NASA Sun & Space account notes the Deep Space Network has picked up a carrier signal from Voyager 2, letting the team know the craft is in good health. Suzanne Dodd, Voyager's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said this "heartbeat" buoyed their spirits.
It is still business as usual for Voyager 1. As of August 1, 2023, the probe is the most distant human-made object from Earth at more than 14.85 billion miles away. NASA believes Voyager 1 will be able to continue operating until at least 2025 before running out of power. The agency started switching off the probe's instruments last year to extend its life.