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February 7, 2014 9:15 AM   Subscribe

ISEE-3 seeks the creator. ICE/ISEE-3 to return to an Earth no longer capable of speaking to it.
posted by bitmage (52 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Captain! I'm hearing...whalesong!
posted by dismas at 9:17 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]


That is strangely heartbreaking, in the way that xkcd was about that Mars rover.

Someone wrote a lovely DOCTOR WHO fanfic that made me feel better about the rover though, so I will imagine my own sequel.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:21 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I just cleaned out some old boxes and threw out a few Zip drives and Jaz drives. I gave a moment's thought and felt a mild regret, wondering what might be on them and realizing it would be impractical to re-create the set up required to read them (parallel port?). Multiply that feeling by a billion for that poor satellite.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:35 AM on February 7 [6 favorites]


It is like you go away for the summer to visit relatives and your parents move without telling you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:35 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Foo.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:37 AM on February 7


And on the same week as the tragic Jade Rabbit tweets...
posted by Navelgazer at 9:38 AM on February 7


.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:40 AM on February 7


If it's that old and the equipment no longer exists to communicate with it, they should open-source the specifications for how to talk to it.
posted by newdaddy at 9:44 AM on February 7 [19 favorites]


One day it will catch up to us again and perhaps that day we will have the ability to bring it back home. ......
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:45 AM on February 7


So ISEE-3 will pass by us, ready to talk with us, but in the 30 years since it departed Earth we've lost the ability to speak its language.

That's very poignant. It's also not true. We still know the language, we just don't have a transmitter in place powerful enough to send the message.
posted by yoink at 9:48 AM on February 7 [10 favorites]


Lost the ability to speak seems like a pretty appropriate metaphor.
posted by grog at 9:50 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Lost the ability to speak seems like a pretty appropriate metaphor.

Yes. If she'd written "lost the ability to speak to it" that would have made good sense. "Lost the ability to speak its language" does not.
posted by yoink at 9:53 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


"Mum! Dad! I'm back! I went all around the sun just like you asked! I've got so much tell you!"

"Mum?"

"Dad?"

"Anyone?"

(sniff)
posted by lordelphin at 10:04 AM on February 7 [21 favorites]


Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it would be at a price no one is willing to spend. And we need to use the DSN because no other network of antennas in the US has the sensitivity to detect and transmit signals to the spacecraft at such a distance.

He told me that when the Deep Space Network realized what was going to be involved in regaining this capability, they did not even proceed as far as developing a cost estimate; "they decided this wasn't going to be possible."


These two comments are pretty cool:

The answer is yes, ham radio can, but this would probably mean operating outside the designated ham radio bands. If a request went out from NASA and the FCC allowed it, my bet is that we could regain control of this valuable part of our spaceflight legacy.

Second that, would the Planetary Society please nudge NASA and the FCC to request the ham operators to look into trying to accomplish this contact. We all waved at Saturn -- now how about we wave at ISEE3? Perhaps a distributed array of ham stations could coordinate well enough to emulate a big antenna? Hams love a challenge.

And the next time something comes creeping up to Earth transmitting a signal nobody's prepared to handle -- we'd have the experience of trying.

You never know.

Why not publicize the technical documents and give HAM enthusiasts a shot at it if they think they can do it? If necessary, perhaps they could borrow equipment from and collaborate with aerospace companies pro bono.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:18 AM on February 7 [13 favorites]


Maybe they don't want anybody deciding to turn on its thrusters and place it in an intersecting orbit with something they can still talk to. Of course I learned from Kerbal Space Program (and not 'Gravity') that it takes a lot of fuel to make big corrections.
posted by hellphish at 10:21 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Like the author, I don't know enough about Deep Space transmission and I'm also not questioning the conclusion from NASA but this seems really odd.

These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999.


And they aren't sitting on a shelf somewhere in a dusty warehouse? This just seems really weird. Maybe there just isn't any value in telling it to do something, regardless of the tear jerky article that was conjured up.
posted by Big_B at 10:25 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I'd love to read a good post about the Deep Space Network.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:36 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


"We chose...not to do these other things not because they are [hard], 
but because they are [expensive], because that goal will [not] serve to organize and
measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are
[not] willing to accept, one we are...willing to postpone, and one which we [have no 
intention] to win." -- President John F. Kennedy, 1962

posted by blue_beetle at 10:41 AM on February 7 [12 favorites]


I bet there's a ton of ham radio geeks willing to volunteer time, which probably would be the most expensive part of project.

Also, I wonder if China or Russia would be interested in a propaganda mini-coup such as reestablishing connection cause US engineers "just can't cut it".
posted by elpapacito at 11:03 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


yeah this seems crazy to me that someone isn't able to get permission to geek out on this and engineer a solution. doesn't mean they should have free reign to make contact, but at least present the solution to nasa and let them go from there. surely one of the guys who originally worked on the project in the 70's knows what to do.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:05 AM on February 7


Clearly ISEE-3 saw something that they don't want us to know about...
posted by ckape at 11:18 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


If anyone's interested, ISEE-3's telecoms info is here.
The functions of telemetry, command and ranging are handled by two identical S-band transponders. On ISEE-3 one transponder was designed to operate continuously, transmitting PCM telemetry. The second transponder is used only for ranging; however, the PCM telemetry can be switched to the second transponder in the event of failure of the first transponder. The choice of S-band over VHF for ISEE-3 was dictated primarily by stringent telemetry downlink requirements such as the long range and a view angle near the solar direction. The uplink frequencies are 2041.95 and 2090.66 MHz; the downlink frequencies are 2217.50 and 2270.40 MHz. The transmitter output power is 5 watts. Both transponder transmitters can transmit through the medium gain antenna simultaneously, although they will radiate with opposite circular polarizations. This antenna has a 9-dB gain and a vertical beam width of 18 degrees.
The issue seems to be command:
Can we tell the spacecraft to turn back on its thrusters and science instruments after decades of silence and perform the intricate ballet needed to send it back to where it can again monitor the Sun? The answer to that question appears to be no.
I'm not sure what happened in 1999 that would have affected things - I would have guessed it'd be something from the DSN Network Simplification Project.

While hunting around for this stuff, I ran across the webpage for The DSN Commitments Office, the guys who make sure new spacecraft can talk to the DSN. Prepare for some sweet 1990s web design.
posted by zamboni at 11:56 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


doesn't mean they should have free reign to make contact, but at least present the solution to nasa and let them go from there.

First thought: salvage! If it's abandoned, would gaining control of it give ownership of it? Sadly no. Under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty there are no salvage rights in space. ("nations retain "jurisdiction and control" over their spacecraft even when they are inoperable")

So, seizing control and demanding a reward would be space piracy. On the bright side, SPACE PIRACY!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:02 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I can't tell if the problem with existing sending capabilities is that they're in the wrong place, or not strong enough, or on the wrong frequency, or just not strong enough on the needed frequencies, or what.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:05 PM on February 7


These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999.

I'm still confused. What the hell were they doing that we can't emulate with current radio equipment hooked up to computers ten billion times as powerful as the ones in use when we launched this thing? I mean were they talking to the probe in fan language or something?
posted by Naberius at 12:11 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Yeah, good question. Maybe the current DSN antennas or power amplifiers are not optimal for the frequencies they were using or something?
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:14 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "First thought: salvage! If it's abandoned, would gaining control of it give ownership of it? Sadly no. Under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty there are no salvage rights in space. ("nations retain "jurisdiction and control" over their spacecraft even when they are inoperable")"

No one tell Andy Griffith.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:27 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


What the hell were they doing that we can't emulate with current radio equipment hooked up to computers ten billion times as powerful as the ones in use when we launched this thing?

This space flight telecoms tutorial may clarify some of the issues involved.
posted by zamboni at 1:01 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


There is a reference in the Wikipedia article that it has been promised to the Smithsonian if it can be recovered, so I think salvage is out.
posted by Big_B at 1:06 PM on February 7


I thought for a sec that the frequencies given for ICE/ISEE-3 seemed to be out of the band for the DSN:

ISEE-3 2041.95 and 2090.66 MHz;
DSN Transmit: 2110-2120 MHz

ISEE-3 downlink frequencies are 2217.50 and 2270.40 MHz.
DSN Receive: 2290-2300 MHz

However, if you consult 810-005, Rev. E DSN Telecommunications Link Design Handbook - 201, Rev. B Frequency and Channel Assignments, there are two separate S-band ranges for Deep Space and Near Earth:

Deep Space Bands (for spacecraft greater than 2 million km from Earth)
Uplink (Earth to space): 2110–2120
Downlink (space to Earth) 2290–2300

Near Earth Bands (for spacecraft less than 2 million km from Earth)
Uplink (Earth to space) 2025–2110
Downlink (space to Earth) 2200–2290
posted by zamboni at 1:22 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I wonder where we could find the specs of the equipment they removed? DSN cites "higher operating frequencies" as a trend, and that's the one that makes the most sense for causing incompatibility. It's going to lap us, right?, so it should come fairly close, compared to all the stuff we have out around Jupiter and Saturn.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:31 PM on February 7


These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999
What?

Is it me, or is that not an awesome phrase? 'Yep, 1999, they were so backwards back then.'

Chrysostom - is that show available anywhere? Anything like "The Astronaut Farmer"?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:43 PM on February 7


Several months of digging through old technical documents has led a group of NASA engineers to believe they will indeed be able to understand the stream of data coming from the spacecraft.
They could post the specs online, declare open season, and anyone that wants to try and comminicate with the craft and take control of it can do so. Crowdsource it!
posted by memebake at 3:10 PM on February 7


I think that means they've located the PCM encoding for information the spacecraft would transmit back to Earth. If they can't transmit commands to tell it to acquire data and send it home, understanding the encoding doesn't do us any good.

Once again, the basic space telecoms chapter is worth reading to understand the challenges involved.
posted by zamboni at 3:22 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Captain! I'm hearing...whalesong!

How, Uhura? HOW??? They aren't actually broadcasting anything on radio frequencies!
posted by hippybear at 3:26 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


is that show available anywhere?

Somebody missed a day of MetaFilter!
posted by dhartung at 3:32 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Aw, this made me shed a tear.

., little space flyer
posted by limeonaire at 3:52 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


And what a day it was.
posted by ckape at 4:58 PM on February 7


No Deep Space transmitters, and no funding for new ones?

Seems like this project is begging for Kickstarter.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:47 PM on February 7


This is shameful. There are politicians who should be ashamed.

I do love MetaFilter though. Within hours zamboni found the frequencies.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:44 PM on February 7


Captain! I'm hearing...whalesong!

Actually, I think that's beaversong.
posted by homunculus at 6:45 PM on February 7


I'm a licensed ham radio operator. The ham community is pretty big into digital comms and software defined radio these days. (Or at least its younger contingent. Relatively younger, that is.)

gnuradio + a $20 USB dongle can get you reception from 52 to 2217 MHz.Which is close, already. Someone might be able to mod a similar circuit.

And there are some transmitters that operate in the uplink range, for other purposes. You might be able to hack one and feed it through an amp.

Or with proper authorization a supplier of S-band transmitters could probably work something out based on an existing tunable design.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:05 PM on February 7


This place has 130 KW output S-Band TWT amplifiers at the bottom of the page.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:01 PM on February 7


I absolutely love how we're always accomplishing extraordinary things while at the same time setting the lowest possible expectations on the lowest possible budget.
It's a common theme for these projects to just keep on ticking long after the guarantee for the minimum needed to get the funding has passed.
I think it says a wonderful thing about science, taking nothing for granted and constantly understating what already seems possible, rather than boasting about what could be.
The result is awe.
And in this particular case, aww.
posted by hypersloth at 9:24 PM on February 7


OK, the folks at Unmanned Spaceflight have more details about the specific problem.
I found http://ipnpr.jpl.nasa.gov/progress_report/42-76/76K.PDF which indicates that ICEE-3 was never designed to use the DSN for communications and a special filter had to be added to the Block V masers at DSS-14 and DSS-63 in the mid-80s to communicate with it. According to http://deepspace.jpl.nasa.gov/dsndocs/810-005/101/101E.pdf the maser was replaced at DSS-14 (Goldstone) in 2010 but the one at DSS-63 (Madrid) isn't going to be until this November, but S-band uplink isn't supported at Madrid because of frequency conflicts.
posted by zamboni at 10:29 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


"Mum! Dad! I'm back! I went all around the sun just like you asked! I've got so much tell you!"

"Mum?"

"Dad?"

"Anyone?"

(sniff)


I shit you not, that actually brought a tear to my eye. I love our intrepid little robots.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:31 AM on February 8


Excellent research. Thanks zamboni.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:47 PM on February 8


Another good comment from the OP:
first and foremost: spacecraft back then spoke IRIG-106 ( these days they speak CCSDS, but that didn't exist back then ).
URL's.
http://www.irig106.org
http://www.106.org
Example implementations:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/irig106

Back then, satellites were primitive by todays standards - there were no on board processors, just sequencers with hardwired sequences.

Encryption back then wasn't an issue. Forget about
that.

What it comes down to is:
- Get the spaceprobe command/telemetry docs
( what command does what, what data are on what channel ).
- Get a USRP/umTRX/BladeRF/HackRF Jawbreaker
or such.
- Get a sufficiently strong power amp
- Get a preamp with preselection filter
- Get GNURadio or RedHawk and use their graphical
design environment and design a transceiver (or modify one of the existing designs like multimode, gqrx or the like.
- Hack on the above IRIG-code
- Get a big antenna, e.g. this one:
http://www.amsat.org/amsat-new/articles/G3RUH
It has the advantage to come with a crew of hams who pull off just anything, like this:
http://www.amsat.org/articles/g3ruh/127.html
In the above project they cooperated with NASA
and NOAA.
One of the key guys:
http://www.jrmiller.demon.co.uk
My proposal: GSFC should contact James Miller,
G3RUH and tell him what they want and work with
him. I'm pretty sure they will like that project.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:55 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


I applaud the ingenuity and determination being exhibited thus far, but I wonder what it really gains us besides a hacking opportunity, as awesome as it is. It's an old spacecraft, we have no idea what shape its instrumentation is in, and any new mission would be dependent not on the neatness of the regained communication abiliity, but very terrestrial resources like money. Right now the entire world of planetary science is in turmoil due to federal (US) budget constraints, and a lot of people who work in this area may be losing their jobs and have to leave the field before any new money becomes available. This year, NASA may have to pit two ongoing missions against each other, or the remainder of the program -- Curiosity and Cassini. Now, any budget for a revived ICE is likely to be significantly less than those missions, but the question becomes where one finds the money to fund even a small mission with limited science objectives given the threat to these highly visible and science-rich missions.

No question, it troubles me.

No Deep Space transmitters, and no funding for new ones?

Actually, the biggest constraint on the Deep Space Network is not equipment, but bandwidth. Don't worry, it's funded (too many missions depend on it), but integrating decades-old equipment into it while simultaneously upgrading it to 21st-century standards are goals that are somewhat at odds with each other.
posted by dhartung at 2:29 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


And on the same week as the tragic Jade Rabbit tweets...

China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover 'declared dead'

.
posted by homunculus at 5:59 PM on February 12


Or not: Zombie Chinese lunar rover rises from the dead
posted by homunculus at 10:16 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


xkcd: Hack
posted by homunculus at 6:57 PM on March 4


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