It’s official: ISEE-3, the 36-year-old satellite that NASA left for dead over a decade ago, is back in touch with humankind. This afternoon, a group of citizen scientists who raised almost $160,000 to fund the process of taking control of ISEE-3 announced that two-way contact has been established with the little satellite that could. So what’s next?
“Over the coming days and weeks our team will make an assessment of the spacecraft’s overall health and refine the techniques required to fire its engines and bring it back to an orbit near Earth,” explained the Reboot team in a triumphant comment released today. Contact was made at Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico, where scientists collaborated with a worldwide network of like-minded space fans to fund and engineer the project.
ISEE-3 was launched back in 1978 to study the relationship between the Sun and Earth. It enjoyed many more missions over the next three decades, but NASA officially cut the cord in 1997. Still, ISEE-3 kept on trucking.
It wasn’t until a decade later that NASA discovered she was still at it, despite the lack of commands from her benefactors at NASA. Why not send her on a new mission? Well, that’s the trouble: We have no way of communicating. The antenna used to contact ISEE-3 had been removed.
Enter the group of scientists including SkyCorp, SpaceRef, Space College Foundation, and others. They want to use a different antenna, at Morehead State University, to contact ISEE-3. “Our plan is simple: we intend to contact the ISEE-3 spacecraft, command it to fire its engines and enter an orbit near Earth, and then resume its original mission,” said Keith Cowing, a former Nasa engineer and owner of Nasa Watch, told the Guardian.