Mar 10, 2020 - Science

Voyager 2 to lose contact with Earth until 2021

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

Go deeper

European Space Agency scales back missions as pandemic intensifies

Photo: NASA

The European Space Agency is stopping science operations on four deep space missions as the coronavirus pandemic continues to intensify.

Why it matters: The shutdown comes as nations have placed tight restrictions on movement while cases of COVID-19 rise. ESA also announced that someone working at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany has tested positive for the virus.

Go deeperArrowMar 24, 2020 - Science

Earth adopted a new "mini-moon"

Gemini Observatory's image of 2020 CD3. Photo: NSF/AURA/G. Fedorets

A likely "mini-moon" found orbiting Earth last month is moving away from our planet now, but it could be a harbinger of new small moons to come.

Why it matters: Objects like this one — which is thought to be a washing machine-sized asteroid captured by Earth's gravity — could allow scientists to one day study space rocks without needing to head all the way out to the asteroid belt.

Go deeperArrowMar 3, 2020 - Science

The coronavirus pandemic, as seen from space

The site for Huoshensan Hospital in Wuhan China in 2017 (left). The hospital built in 2020 (right). Photos: ©2020 Maxar Technologies

Miles above Earth, the global effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic can be seen unfolding at a rapid and dramatic scale.

Why it matters: Tracking the effects of the virus from space can help organizations understand the pandemic without sending people into harm's way, and it can promote transparency and accountability around efforts to combat the virus.

Go deeperArrowMar 26, 2020 - Science