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Former Astronauts Reboot NASA ISEE-3 Probe For Original Mission

July 7, 2014
Image Caption: Artist's illustration of the ISEE-3/ICE spacecraft. Credit: NASA

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

After a 27-year slumber, NASA’s International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft has reawakened – firing its thrusters on July 2 in preparation for a major course change.

As part of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project being run by former NASA astronauts, the firing of the rockets caused the craft to increase its rotation rate from 19.16 revolutions per minute (rpm) to 19.76 rpm.

“All in all, a very good day,” wrote project co-leader Keith Cowan on the project’s official blog.

Launched in 1978, the ISEE-3 mission was designed to measure the streams of particles emanating from the Sun. However, the craft would become known as the first object to nestle into a Lagrangian point, where the gravitational pull between two objects is balanced, and the first craft to pass through comet Giacobini-Zinner‘s plasma tail as the International Cometary Explorer (ICE).

After its notable encounter with the comet, the craft’s batteries failed and powered only by its solar panels fell into a path that would have it orbiting around the Sun for an eternity.

Now, Robert Farquhar, who helped launch the craft, and a team of mostly former NASA employees is trying to resuscitate the craft and fulfill its original intent. The team also includes several younger scientists.

“Some of our team members were not even born yet the last time the engines fired,” the team posted to its official Twitter profile.

The project received the “ok” from NASA back in May and has also been crowdfunding its endeavor – to the tune of nearly $160,000.

“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,” Cowing wrote in a project status report in May. “If we are successful it may also still be able to chase yet another comet.”

The team has reported some difficulty in getting the old girl started up again as much of her programming has long been defunct. The craft is also unable to store code so instructions must be painstakingly sent individually.

“Your toaster is smarter,” Cowing recently told The Los Angeles Times.

The team is said to be currently using NASA’s Deep Space Network to gather information on ISEE-3’s exact location. The scientists will then adjust the craft’s trajectory to align its orbit with the original mission’s intent in mind. NASA has given the project its blessing and said any data resulting from the reboot will be shared.

“New data resulting from the project will be shared with the science community and the public, providing a unique tool for teaching students and the public about spacecraft operations and data-gathering,” according to a NASA statement.

According to the Economist, a main goal of the project is to boost interest in space exploration among the general population, which is finding space exploration more and more accessible. The team reportedly also wants to show that modern technology can now be used in a way that used to require a massive amount of infrastructure.

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Source: Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online



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