Scientists race against time to harness a drifting satellite as it passes by the Earth.
ISEE-3 is a satellite that was launched in 1978 to monitor solar wind, and was left to drift in space by NASA after being repurposed to chase comets. Decades later, a group of private citizens have started the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, which has raised more than $150,000 to try and put the satellite back to work at its original task. Even though NASA doesn’t have any money in the budget to help, they have officially endorsed the group, which will try and make contact next month.
“NASA does feel that the data that ISEE-3 could generate would have real value and that a crowdfunded effort such as ours has real value as an education and public outreach activity,” the group mentions on their website.
The team of engineers, programmers, and scientists have to work fast, especially as they only have a limited period of time to reprogram the satellite’s trajectory. First, programmers have to recreate virtual software versions of the original hardware, which the team can then use to transmit new instructions via the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
ISEE-3 must be contacted in the next month or so and it must complete its orbit change maneuvers no later than mid-June 2014. There is excitement ahead as well: part of the maneuvers will include a flyby of the moon at an altitude of less than 50 km.
If everything goes to plan, the satellite will re-enter a stable orbit around the earth, where it can once again collect valuable information about solar winds. There is also the possibility of failure, which would mean ISEE-3 passes right by the Earth, forcing scientists to wait another 30 or 40 years before they have another chance to communicate with the satellite.
There are still a few hours left to donate money to the project, and even though the team has surpassed its original goal of $125,000, every little helps. For more details on the project, head over to their crowdfunding page, or check out the video below.
Images by ISEE-3 Reboot Project