A group of citizen scientists has successfully established communication with an inactive NASA spacecraft in an attempt to breathe new scientific life into a more than 35-year-old agency mission.
NASA signed a Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement (NRSAA) with Skycorp, Inc., in Los Gatos, California, on May 21 that allows the company to contact, and possibly command and control, NASA's International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft as part of the company's ISEE-3 Reboot Project. On May 29, the project team established two-way communication with the ISEE-3 spacecraft and began commanding it to perform specific functions.
First contact with ISEE-3 was achieved at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. The initial contact was a tone followed by specific commands. The team has changed modes so the spacecraft will broadcast telemetry information. Over the coming days and weeks they are planning to assess the spacecraft's overall health and refine the techniques required to fire its engines and bring it back to an orbit near Earth.
"NASA congratulates the ISEE-3 Reboot Project team and everyone involved in establishing communications with the ISEE-3 spacecraft," said Allard Beutel, NASA spokesperson in Washington. "The team now is finding out whether the scientific instruments on board might be functional. The contribution of the citizen science from ISEE-3, if recovered, will be highly dependent on the status of the instruments. This creative effort to recapture the spacecraft has already engaged citizen scientists and citizen spacecraft operators and is capturing the curiosity of the next generation."
This is the first time NASA has worked such an agreement for use of a spacecraft the agency is no longer using or ever planned to use again. The NRSAA details the technical, safety, legal and proprietary issues that will be addressed before any attempts are made to communicate with or control the 1970's-era spacecraft as it nears the Earth in August.