Through the Heliosphere: Voyager 2 Reaches Interstellar Space

On a trajectory to reach the edge of our solar system, Voyager 2, NASA’s longest lasting mission at 41 years, met a major milestone yesterday as it entered interstellar space through the heliosphere, the protective layer consisting of solar winds, particles and the magnetic fields created by the sun. Though its predecessor, Voyager 1 accomplished this feat in 2012, this mission revealed remarkable real-time observations, only possible through vital communication with NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) operated and maintained by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) and the Peraton team.

To augment the data collected from Voyager 2 as it traveled through the southern hemisphere, JPL and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization collaborated to add the Parkes 64-meter antenna in communicating with Voyager 2. The Parkes antenna located in South Wales, Australia was initiated on 8 November into the mission sequence.

Integrating the Parkes antenna with the DSN required meticulous engineering and planning by the JPL/Peraton team with less than a month of preparation to execute a once in a lifetime mission. To put it in perspective, Voyager 2, launched in 1977, has taken four decades to travel more than 11 billion miles, leaving no room for error. Careful synchronization required manual data processing from Australian counterparts to the Peraton team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab network operations center located in Goldstone, CA.

Mission success was achieved as the team observed the Voyager 2 spacecraft make the transition into interstellar space. “It is a unique opportunity to study the edge of our solar system in real time. Tracking Voyager 2 was made possible through common desire of our international space community to learn more about where we came from and where we are going,” said Sonny Giroux. The JPL/Peraton team will continue to track Voyager 2 through February 2019 as it continues its trajectory from the outer reaches of our solar system into interstellar space, a mission that was originally set to last only five years.