Silent (and stolen) satellite gets rebooted after 17 years

Contributed by
Jun 2, 2014, 11:48 AM EDT

When we hear that something gets a reboot, we think, "Oh no, will we be getting a new Spider-Man movie again?" But when it comes to news about the ISEE-3 satellite, we're using the word "reboot" in its original form: To restart a system from a powered down state. Now, after 17 years, a long-silent satellite has been successfully rebooted. Did we mention it was stolen, first?

The ISEE-3, created as a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency in 1978, studied solar winds and its interaction with comets. After its successful mission, ICE was tucked out of sight in a halo orbit. As Halley's comet approached, project leader Robert Farquhar wanted to get a closer look. Unfortunately, that wasn't a part of NASA's plan (or budget). But Farquhar was determined...and inventive.

So, in 1985 Farquhar stole ICE.

According to NPR, "Farquhar came up with a complicated trajectory that would let this spacecraft intercept a different comet called Giacobini-Zinner in September of 1985, months before the armada of other space probes would arrive at Halley's." And just like that, ICE slipped out of its orbit - and its job of studying solar winds - and headed out.

Other NASA scientists were not amused and told the press as such. But as Farquhar told NPR, "We didn't steal [ICE]; we just borrowed it for a while!" After studying Halley's comet, Farquhar sent ICE back on a course that would put it in its original orbit. Only this time, the journey would take 31 years.

ICE has been heading closer to home ever since. But to restart communications would take more money than NASA is willing to give (which is nothing; budgetary issues, again). So space enthusiasts Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing went to to kickstart a project to reboot the satellite - before it's too late. As the project page noted"ISEE-3 must be contacted in the next month or so and it must complete its orbit change maneuvers no later than mid-June 2014."

Wingo and Cowing raised $159,000, after asking for $125,000. But even with the cash, it wasn't certain that ICE would respond; after all, communications to the satellite ceased in 1997. 

Good news for all: Yesterday, they announced, "We have successfully commanded both of ISEE-3's data multiplexers into engineering telemetry mode. The current bitrate is 512 bits/sec." In other words, it's talking.

And if this success continues, ICE will be returning to its original mission.

Hey, better late than never.

Via Gizmodo.