NASA has re-established limited contact with the Voyager 2 probe, which had been silent since last month after tilting its antenna away from Earth due to a wrong command. Voyager 2 was launched by NASA in 1977 and has explored the universe for more than four decades.

The spacecraft is currently over 19.9 billion kilometres away from Earth in interstellar space.

On Tuesday, during a routine sky scan, NASA’s Deep Space Network detected a faint but significant heartbeat signal from Voyager 2. This signal comes as a ray of hope after ground controllers could not communicate with the spacecraft since 21 July. Due to the vast distance, it took approximately 18 hours for the signal to travel from Voyager 2 to Earth.

The unexpected loss of contact occurred when Voyager 2 mistakenly repositioned its antenna two degrees away from Earth, leading to data transmission and reception disruptions. As a result, NASA’s ground controllers could not send commands to the spacecraft. Voyager 2 was unable to transmit scientific data back to Earth.

However, with the recent reception of the heartbeat signal, NASA scientists confirmed that the spacecraft is still operational. The probe continues its incredible journey at 55,346 km/h through interstellar space.

The spacecraft provides insights into the outer planets and their moons. Its mission has been extended multiple times as it continues its journey beyond our solar system.

NASA attempted to detect any faint stray signals from the probe by utilising its large deep-space dish in Canberra, Australia. Plus, they tried sending the correct command to the spacecraft’s designated area. This was in hopes of regaining full control over the spacecraft’s orientation and data transmission capabilities.

While communication has not been fully restored yet, there is still optimism among the NASA team. The spacecraft is equipped with a programme that automatically resets its orientation multiple times each year, ensuring its antenna remains pointed towards Earth. The next scheduled reset is on 15 October. NASA remains hopeful that this will enable the resumption of communication with the spacecraft.

Voyager 2 and its counterpart, Voyager 1, stand as the sole spacecraft in history to function beyond the heliosphere, the Sun’s protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields. In 2018 and 2012, they entered interstellar space. Voyager 2 accomplished this in 2018 and Voyager 1 in 2012.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were ingeniously designed to take advantage of a rare alignment of the outer planets, which occurs approximately every 176 years. This alignment allowed the spacecraft to use a gravitational slingshot effect to explore Jupiter and Saturn, and later for Voyager 2, to continue its journey to Uranus and Neptune.

These space pioneers’ legacy extends beyond their scientific achievements. Both Voyager spacecraft carry a Golden Record, a time capsule containing sounds, pictures, and messages from Earth.