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Surprising Science

Failure to Relaunch ISEE-3 Doesn’t Spell the End For Satellite Rescue

A crowdsourced effort to take control of an abandoned satellite has ended due to rocket failure. The valiant endeavor may encourage others to try their hand at commandeering old satellites.

What’s the Latest?

You may remember this story from early last month about a crowd-sourced effort to take control of a 36-year-old NASA satellite that’s been floating aimlessly out of commission since 1998. Sadly, New Scientist reports the efforts to jump-start the meandering International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) have failed. The team tasked with commandeering the satellite successfully made contact with it in late May and were pleased to find most of its systems still in working order. Unfortunately, attempts to move ISEE-3 back into a near-Earth orbit ended when the satellite’s rocket systems puttered out.

From the New Scientist piece:

“The spacecraft was doing everything we told it to, except there was no fuel, so no oomph,” [NASA Watch’s Keith] Cowing says. “It was literally the last gasp from the propulsion system.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Cowing and his associates raised over $150,000 in crowdsourced funds to finance the ISEE-3 Reboot Project. Armed with cash and NASA’s blessing, they were able to establish two-way contact with the satellite a few months ago.

The enthusiasm of the folks in that video shows all you need to know about the endeavor. It was a valiant attempt to take control of what had previously been thought of as only space junk. The team almost pulled it off as well — their methods seemed to be sound, ISEE-3 just ran out of gas at the end.

The exciting prospect of actually commandeering an abandoned satellite has effectively whetted Cowing’s appetite for the long term. He tells New Scientist that there’s little doubt his team will try again. Their initial effort should pave the way for a future in satellite requisition.

Keep reading at NEW SCIENTIST

Photo credit: fongfong / Shutterstock

A NASA satellite shut down in 1997 has been commandeered (with the space agency’s permission) by a independent team of scientists and enthusiasts. The ISEE-3 Reboot Project has established communication with the 35-year-old satellite and can now command it to perform basic functions.    

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