‘Citizen scientists’ take control of satellite abandoned by NASA in 1997
Having received the blessing of NASA, — and following a successful crowd-funding campaign — a group of ‘citizen scientists’ have taken control of an abandoned NASA satellite with plans to put it back to work again.
In May the National Aeronautics and Space Administration gave permission to the group to attempt to put the 36-year-old decommissioned International Sun/Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft back into service for their own research purposes.
According to The Economist, the satellite team – which included the original mission’s flight dynamicist – successfully fired the craft’s propulsion system this week for the first time since 1987, pulling it out of a graveyard orbit around Earth and setting it on a usable course.
Provided with technical data from NASA, and working at the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, the team of scientists, who go by the name of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, have been able to communicate with the satellite but have been hindered in their work since it does not possess the memory storage capabilities developed since 1978 .
According to the scientists and engineers, all commands must be sent one message at a time and then they must wait for an acknowledgement before proceeding to the next step.
Launched in 1978, the International Sun/Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft studied how the stream of charged particles flowing from the sun, the so-called solar wind, interacts with Earth’s magnetic field.
The group hopes their efforts will ignite interest in space exploration and research at an time when funding is drying up, as well as possibly having the satellite resume its original task of watching the sun.
The enthusiasts now plan to consult with NASA for its “authorization to proceed” for its next thruster firings.
[Image, artist’s rendering via AFP]