Yesterday, a group of civilian scientists was able to make contact with and control a spacecraft that has been wandering alone in the solar system for decades.
The spacecraft, the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3), was contacted by the ISEE-3 Reboot Project from the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. The Reboot Project is an international effort authorized by NASA to contact and control the spacecraft.
The project established two-way communication with ISEE-3 and was able to send it commands. The next steps are to assess the spacecraft’s overall health and to work toward firing up its engines and bringing it back to a near earth orbit. The spacecraft is sending back telemetry data.
ISEE-3 was launched as a joint NASA and European Space Agency project in 1978 and spent three years studying solar winds. It was then renamed the International Comet Explorer and redirected by NASA to study two comets, Comet Giacobini-Zinner and Halley’s Comet. NASA shut the project down in 1997 and since then it has continued to orbit the sun. The spacecraft’s orbit is now approaching the earth, which was the perfect time for the reboot project to attempt to grab it.
The Reboot Project plans to maneuver the spaceship into a gravitationally stable point between the earth and the sun, known as Lagrangian 1 (L1), and then use the ship’s instruments for scientific study. The new data will be shared with the public as an educational tool.
Find out more about the project here.