Artist's illustration of Voyager 2 in space. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Voyager 2 — one of the farthest-flung spacecraft ever built — won't be able to receive commands from Earth until 2021.

Why it matters: If something goes wrong with the spacecraft in the next 11 months, it could mark the end of the long, iconic mission that is now exploring interstellar space, 11.5 billion miles from Earth.

Details: The communication disruption — which began on Monday — is necessary so that engineers can make repairs to a 70-meter antenna in Canberra, Australia that sends commands from the ground to Voyager 2.

  • The dish itself has been in use for almost 50 years, and operators on the ground need to repair components in order to keep it functioning reliably.
  • Voyager 2 will still be able to send science data back to Earth during this time through other Australian antennas.

The 70-meter antenna is part of the Deep Space Network, a 24/7 matrix of instruments around the world that are responsible for communication with distant spacecraft around the solar system.

  • It is currently the only antenna that can send commands to Voyager 2 due to its power and location in the Southern Hemisphere.

What's next: Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, are expected to have enough power to collect at least some science data through 2027, assuming no new issues crop up, according to NASA.

Go deeper: Voyager 2's journey in interstellar space

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