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Voyager 2 to spend nearly a year on autopilot while 48-year-old Australian dish undergoes critical upgrades

NASA’s Voyager 2 space probe will soon spend 11 months without the ability to receive commands from Earth, according to the agency. That’s because the 48-year-old Australian radio antenna known as DSS43 will undergo much needed hardware upgrades starting this month.

Voyager 2 first launched almost 43 years ago with the task of studying the outer planets in our solar system. While the probe won’t be able to receive instructions from Earth for most of 2020, it will continue to send data to Earth as it enters a quiescent state. DSS43 is the only dish equipped to send data to the space probe in part because it’s only viewable from the southern hemisphere.

NASA’s space probe isn’t the only reason Deep Space Network is upgrading its 20 story office-sized dish either.

The repairs will benefit far more than Voyager 2, including future missions like the Mars 2020 rover and Moon to Mars exploration efforts. The network will play a critical role in ensuring communication and navigation support for both the precursor Moon and Mars missions and the crewed Artemis missions. “The maintenance is needed to support the missions that NASA is developing and launching in the future, as well as supporting the missions that are operating right now,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager and JPL Director for the Interplanetary Network.

Deep Space Network’s chief engineer Jeff Berner likened the work to “bringing an old car into the shop: There’s never a good time to do it, but it will make the car much more dependable if you do.”

NASA expects hardware upgrades to the special S-band transmitter on the giant dish to be completed by the end of January next year.