NASA’s Deep Space Station 43 (DSS43)was put under construction back in mid-March. Because of that, the Voyager 2 spacecraft was left in the dark, with no way to receive communications from Earth. This is due to DSS43 being the only antenna on the planet that is capable of sending communications out to Voyager 2.
On October 29, NASA was able to briefly use DSS43 to send a set of instructions to Voyager 2, marking the first time the spacecraft had received instructions since March. NASA contacted Voyager 2 to test some of the new equipment that was installed during the construction process. Much more construction still needs to take place; it is due to be finished in February 2021.
The construction requires such a long period of time because virtually every aspect of the antenna is being upgraded. “We’re doing work at all levels of the antenna, from the pedestal at ground level all the way up to the feedcones at the center of the dish that extend above the rim,” said Brad Arnold, who is the Deep Space Network project manager at NASA.
Of course, having the only antenna that can communicate with Voyager 2 being out of commission for almost 12 months seems like an odd decision. However, when you consider things like the radio transmitter on DSS43, which is used to communicate with Voyager 2, being 47 years old, it starts to make more sense.
It isn’t normal for spacecraft to only be capable of communicating with a single antenna on Earth. Voyager 2 was put in this unique position from an incident back in 1989. The spacecraft needed to make a close flyby of Neptune’s moon Triton, so it flew over the planet’s north pole, which unfortunately set it on an odd trajectory. Now, because of that odd trajectory, Voyager 2 can only be reached via DSS43.