[meteorite-list] Private Team Hopes to Contact 36-Year-Old NASA Probe This Week (ISEE-3)
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 19 May 2014 16:34:54 -0700 (PDT)
Private Team Hopes to Contact 36-Year-Old NASA Probe This Week (ISEE-3)
By Elizabeth Howell
May 19, 2014
A private crowdfunded team will attempt to make contact with a 1970s-era
NASA spacecraft this week, the first major step in an ambitious effort
to repurpose the retired probe.
Members of the group, which met its $125,000 crowfunding goal last week,
have traveled to Puerto Rico, where they'll use the powerful Arecibo Observatory
to beam messages to the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 probe, or ISEE-3.
The spacecraft launched in 1978 and ceased science operations in 1997.
The team has raised about $132,000 as of today (May 19). Over the weekend,
the ISEE-3 Reboot Project extended the fundraising campaign to Friday
(May 23), asking donors to help meet a "stretch goal" of $150,000.
The extra money will be used to rent NASA's Deep Space Network scientific
telecommunications system, which the team will use to stay in touch with
ISEE-3 spacecraft, project leaders said.
But contacting the spacecraft using the Arecibo Observatory - the world's
largest single-dish radio telescope - is the first order of business.
Team members are in Puerto Rico trying to make their hardware work with
the telescope (which is itself several decades old) and to install a transmitter
shipped from Germany this week.
"Once we're certain the hardware works - that it can transmit and receive
and do all the stuff to talk with the spacecraft - then the issue is getting
everybody into position," said project co-leader Keith Cowing, who is
remaining behind in Virginia to "pump up" the crowdfunding effort.
Cowing and co-leader Dennis Wingo are receiving no funding from NASA to
work with the spacecraft, but on Friday (May 16) they signed a Space Act
Agreement with the agency.
A private group has never contacted a spacecraft before, and Cowing said
everyone wanted to be sure that things were "done right." The pact covers
matters such as how the group will contact the spacecraft, what they plan
to do with it and what the data will be used for.
The ISEE-3 probe has had an itinerant life since entering space in 1978.
It originally examined the solar wind and cosmic rays, then chased two
comets (including Halley's Comet) in the mid-1980s, then was a sun probe
from 1991 until 1997, when it was put into hibernation.
Making contact is a challenge because there is no computer on board, requiring
the team to seek out old documents to figure out how to get in touch with
"It doesn't even have a thermostat. It hasn't had a [working] battery
for 20 years," Cowing said.
The team plans to "talk" to the probe to see which of its 13 instruments
are functioning, and then to redirect its path so that it swings around
the far side of the moon. Team members will need to make sure the solar-powered
ISEE-3 survives this maneuver, which will take it beyond the reach of
sunlight for a spell.
The group plans to redirect the probe from its current orbit around the
sun to the Earth-sun Lagrange Point 1 (ES-1), a gravitationally stable
spot about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth. But it's
unclear what the spacecraft's ultimate fate will be; Cowing said they'll
worry about that later.
"It's a lot easier to have discussions with folks with a spacecraft you
have saved than one you have not yet," he said.
Cowing, a former NASA employee himself, is also co-leading the Lunar Orbiter
Image Recovery Project, which is digitizing original analog tapes from
five robotic spacecraft that went to the moon in 1966 and 1967. He credits
that effort (which he also heads with Wingo) for helping him think creatively
about contacting ISEE-3.
"The more we tried, the more we discovered we could do this," he said.
"You could reverse-engineer stuff. You could buy parts, which were still
out there. People kept this stuff in their garages."
While a lot of hard work lies ahead, Cowing says he's been honored by
the help and support of many former NASA workers, as well as the hundreds
of people who supported the team financially. Many of those funders are
not self-professed space geeks, he added, saying that perhaps NASA and
other space entities should bear that in mind when doing public outreach.
"When I would see them [funders] tweet something, I'd always go back and
follow them from the official Twitter account. These are people with like
three or four followers; they're virgin. It's astonishing. And they're
saying this is so cool, what we are doing," Cowing said.
"Everyone who donates now feels that they have a personal stake in our
success," he added, "and that they get to celebrate when we make it work."
First contact is expected this week. Updates will be available at the
ISEE-3 blog at http://spacecollege.org/isee3/.
Received on Mon 19 May 2014 07:34:54 PM PDT