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Prodigal probe
May 29, 2014 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Back in February (mefi), things looked grim for the ISEE-3/ICE probe. A lot can change in 3 1/2 months.

Originally launched in 1978 to study the Earth's magnetic field and the solar wind, the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 was renamed in 1982 (to the International Cometary Explorer) and dispatched to rendezvous with two comets in 1985 and '86. After completing that mission, the probe orbited along the same trajectory as the Earth (roughly speaking), but out of phase with it. The two orbits would next align in mid-2014.

The probe's third mission (gathering data on coronal mass ejections) ended in 1997, and the antennas needed to contact it were decommissioned in 1999. NASA determined it would be infeasible to reestablish contact this year, despite the fact that the probe is believed to have up to 12 of its original 13 sensors in working order, and a sufficient supply of thruster fuel for orbital maneuvers. Not deterred, a group of enthusiasts set up a crowdfunding campaign and raised $160k for an effort to contact the spacecraft. NASA signed an agreement last week to allow that effort to proceed legally.

Using a custom-built transmitter installed at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, the team made contact with the probe, and as of about 12 hours ago it began transmitting telemetry data to three Earth-based receiving stations. Pending analysis of the probe's status, the team could next park it in a stable orbit between the Earth and the Sun (specifically the L1 point). You can follow the team's progress on their blog.
posted by dendrochronologizer (20 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first news I saw from this was a William Gibson retweet that they had contact. (Proof that we do indeed, as my advisor used to say, live in a science-fictional universe.)

That's some serious engineering to be transmitting telemetry after years of sitting idle. Voyagers 1 and 2 are still contributing to science. And here I thought I was doing well that my iPod hadn't died after five years!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:44 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


This is a great post. Thanks for this. (And fits right in with today's far-too-on-point Onion article.)

Doubly interesting that one of the leads on this, Keith Cowing, is the guy behind NASA Watch.
posted by Upton O'Good at 11:54 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


we do indeed, as my advisor used to say, live in a science-fictional universe

Tonight I had dinner at a friend's house. Also present was an applicant from the Mars One project. If you don't recognize the name right away, you might recognize their goal — Mars One wants to send human colonists to Mars with no guarantee of a return trip.

Of the 200,000-plus original applicants, my dinner companion was one of the roughly 700 who have not yet been rejected. This guy was seriously excited about project, but seemingly oblivious to the potential implications of his wife having suggested that he sign up for a one-way trip to another planet. He showed me a presentation about himself and why we should go to Mars. It started off kind of sensibly but quickly veered into ancient moon battles, occultism at JPL, pyramids on Mars, and a picture of a moon rock that was alleged to resemble C3P0's head.

He also told me about Navajo creation myths describing space beings who seeded the earth, a colorful belief that I will be sure not to present as fact when I visit the Navajo Reservation tomorrow, because I am not an asshole.

Before dinner I read the thread about the new SpaceX craft, and after dinner I read about enthusiasts taking control of a space probe launched during Jimmy Carter's presidency. (Incidentally, I learned from Mars One Guy's friend that Martin Sheen, Jane Fonda, and Jimmy Carter were all present for the Three Mile Island accident, but only the latter had any right to be there.) During dinner I talked with a man who earnestly believed that he might die on Mars.

I love our science-fictional universe because it meshes so well with our regular-fictional universe.
posted by compartment at 12:16 AM on May 30 [14 favorites]


This guy was seriously excited about project, but seemingly oblivious to the potential implications of his wife having suggested that he sign up for a one-way trip to another planet.

His *current* wife? Was she there at dinner?

And yes yes all the science stuff is interesting but COME ON, priorities.
posted by rue72 at 12:50 AM on May 30


compartment: Wait, what!?
posted by loquacious at 1:04 AM on May 30


I wonder if the Mars One applicant process is filtering for "People who are crazy enough to actually go" instead of "People who are sane enough to actually survive."

I could understand arguments for either process.
posted by empath at 2:33 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


Yay for ISEE-3! What's the opposite of a dot?
posted by localroger at 5:03 AM on May 30


O
posted by carter at 5:42 AM on May 30


! (An exclamation mark on the move)
posted by filthy light thief at 6:53 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


empath: I wonder if the Mars One applicant process is filtering for "People who are crazy enough to actually go" instead of "People who are sane enough to actually survive."

Well, They will be filming a reality TV-style, "with viewers voting on who should colonise the Red Planet." That article states that 'Organisers said they ruled out anyone "not taking the mission seriously" ' but it looks like some of the eccentric personalities might have gotten through the initial screening.

If they really want the initial colonization to work, I could see keeping some "interesting" people around for the TV program, then some more project-minded folks promoting a final group to really get the project to work.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:56 AM on May 30


During dinner I talked with a man who earnestly believed that he might die on Mars.

Having just read The Martian, by Andy Weir, I feel that there's a short story in here about someone on one of the early manned Mars flights whose hidden agenda is to become the first human to die on Mars.
posted by plinth at 7:22 AM on May 30


This project is super cool and also kind of crazy. It's like if Kerbal Space Program were real. They basically hijacked a satellite, there was no real way NASA could really stop someone from doing this. These early systems had no security, the assumption was if you knew enough to send it commands you probably had the right to do so. Happily they got permission from NASA so we don't have our first instance of space piracy.

Here's an older orbit picture with a great retrofuture style.

A project of similar spirit I've been following is SkyCube, a cubesat that was launched with $116,000 of Kickstarter money. One of 33 tiny satellites launched by NanoRacks. Tim DeBenedictus wrote a great article in the November 2013 Sky & Telescope about how they built it, MeMail me if you want to borrow my copy of it. Basically for $100,000 you can launch 1.3kg in to low Earth orbit (via the ISS), and a simple amateur satellite only costs $1000 or so in parts.

The problem is communication; there's no network for amateur use in orbit. And for a small/cheap satellite like this you can't reliably point the antenna at a ground station. Sadly SkyCube hasn't worked out well. It took them a long time to find it in space, and now it seems like the solar panels didn't deploy right. For ISEE-3 the crowdfunding included renting time on the Deep Space Network, so they'll be able to stay in touch.
posted by Nelson at 9:20 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Hurrah! Well done.

I'm interested to see the rise of private foundations doing space work. This project was done under the auspices of Space College:
a Virginia-based nonprofit organization. Our mission is to provide access to educational resources, career opportunities, and hands-on involvement in space exploration.... ISEE-3 Reboot Project is our first major activity.
Then there's the B612 Foundation, looking out for asteroids which might hit the Earth.

Will more of these groups step up as NASA retrenches?
posted by doctornemo at 10:08 AM on May 30


The Andy Hardy "Let's put on a show!" aspect of the Internet was something I never anticipated when I was screaming in from Cygni to bomb Draconis in a Federation scout ship in my Netrek days.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:30 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


This project is super cool and also kind of crazy. It's like if Kerbal Space Program were real. They basically hijacked a satellite, there was no real way NASA could really stop someone from doing this. These early systems had no security, the assumption was if you knew enough to send it commands you probably had the right to do so. Happily they got permission from NASA so we don't have our first instance of space piracy.
But they're pirates with hearts of gold! Or maybe a lust for science, instead of gold doubloons. This was a case of a resource that was about to be wasted, because if nobody did anything ISEE-3 would have been lost forever by mid June.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:00 PM on May 30


> These early systems had no security, the assumption was if you knew enough to send it commands you probably had the right to do so.

There have been a few times I have shown someone how to do something at the UNIX command line and they ask why it isn't easier, and my reply has been "It supposed to be difficult and complicated. That way only people who understand what is going on will do it."
posted by benito.strauss at 12:10 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]


Huzzah!
posted by homunculus at 7:25 PM on May 30


Well, They will be filming a reality TV-style, "with viewers voting on who should colonise the Red Planet."

Wow, this was the plot of Ron Moore's unsuccesful show, Virtuality.
posted by latkes at 11:56 AM on June 1


Happy Dance Video - First Successful ISEE-3 commands sent
posted by nubs at 11:45 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


NYTimes article: Calling Back a Zombie Ship From the Graveyard of Space
posted by homunculus at 4:00 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


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