Drawing of ISEE-3 / NASA
A group of space enthusiasts has made contact with a NASA satellite that hasn't been used for 17 years.
The ISEE-3 satellite was first launched in 1978 to collect space weather data and ceased operations in 1997.
With nearly $160,000 in crowdsourced funds, a group of private citizens was able to develop hardware and software to communicate with the disco-era satellite.
With NASA's permission, ISEE-3 Reboot Project made its first contact with the probe on Thursday.
"We said, 'Beep,' and it said, 'Beep,'" said Keith Cowing, co-founder of the project and a former NASA scientist.
The project, started seven weeks ago, aims to reboot the satellite and return it to the orbit of its original mission between the Earth and the sun. By doing this, the project's organizers hope the satellite will be able to resume its mission of collecting space weather data.
The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is made up of about 20 people, mostly former NASA scientists and engineers, as well as current consultants for the space agency, spread out across the country. The team used the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico to establish communication, and are setting up radio telescopes in California, Kentucky and even Germany, Cowing said.
Unlike other satellites' data, the data collected by ISEE-3 will be immediately made available online to the public.
"We just want to give the spacecraft to the people who paid for it," Cowing said.
All of this depends on the Reboot participants being able to change ISEE-3's orbit.
Among the factors Reboot participants will have to deal with are fuel - Cowing says there should be enough of it to fire up the engine - and timing. NASA originally predicted the satellite would be in a position close to the moon on Aug. 10, allowing for an orbit change. But now it's unclear if the probe will hit the moon or travel closer to Earth, Cowing said.
The scientists will have to act soon to fire up the engines, probably within the next couple of weeks, Cowing said.
If the probe continues on its current orbit, it could be another several decades before the satellite is in a position where switching orbits is possible. Cowing said: "There is no second chance."
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Read the original story: Citizen scientists aim to restart long-silent NASA probe