#ISEE-3 – Two-way communication established!

May 30, 2014

This is something I really find pretty cool. ISEE-3 [3] is an abandoned space probe by NASA. Originally it was intended to investigate Earth’s magnetosphere, the Sun’s plasma wind cosmic rays in general. Launched in 1978 it conducted it’s mission until 1982, when the probe got a new designation: It was renamed ICE (International Cometary Explorer) and was sent into the comet Giacobini-Zinner‘s plasma tail and used it instruments to check the surroundings. Even cooler, after that it passed Halley’s tail in 1986 as well! But it’s journey wasn’t over yet; being a veteran, it was now repurposed again to study Sun’s coronal mass ejections.

ISEE3-ICE; artist impression by NASA (public domain)

ISEE3-ICE; artist impression by NASA (public domain)

In 1997, NASA decided to end the mission [3], shut down the probe and only the telemetry was left operational. Eventually the ground based control station was dismantled and the probe was left to rest in space.

Until. In March 2014, ham radio enthusiasts at Bochum’s radio observatory got in contact with ISEE-3 [2]. A fundraiser to get back in touch & control with the probe was quickly initiated which raised almost USD 160,000 [4] in a few weeks; it’s purpose: Regain control and continue with scientific operations! Ettus Research donated a few SDR transceivers [1]; NASA finally approved the mission [6]; and as of yesterday, the ISEE-3 reboot team is in control of the spacecraft [5].

Everybody is so excited that they even may use the world’s largest radio dish in Arecibo!

Waterfall plot of the signal from ISEE-3 today as detected by the big dish.  We were able to hear it on our Software Defined Radio unit today as well. (Credits: Space College et al, Source: http://spacecollege.org/isee3/listening-to-isee-3-from-arecibo.html )

“Waterfall plot of the signal from ISEE-3 today as detected by the big dish. We were able to hear it on our Software Defined Radio unit today as well.” (Credits: Space College et al, Source: http://spacecollege.org/isee3/listening-to-isee-3-from-arecibo.html)

This is so cool, I’m “happier than a terrier in barrel full of rats” [7]. Exciting times!

[1] K. Cowing, “Ettus Research Helps Power ISEE-3 Reboot Effort – Space College,” Space College, 08-May-2014. [Online]. Available: http://spacecollege.org/isee3/ettus-research-helps-power-isee-3-reboot-effort.html. [Accessed: 30-May-2014]
[2] P. Gülzow, “ICE Satellit in Bochum empfangen,” AMSAT-DL, 09-Mar-2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.amsat-dl.org/index.php/news-mainmenu-97/198-ice-satellit-in-bochum-empfangen. [Accessed: 24-May-2014].
[3] “International Cometary Explorer,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 30-May-2014.
[4] “ISEE-3 Reboot Project by Space College, Skycorp, and SpaceRef.” [Online]. Available: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/42228-isee-3-reboot-project-by-space-college-skycorp-and-spaceref. [Accessed: 24-May-2014].
[5] K. Cowing, “We Are Now In Command of the ISEE-3 Spacecraft – Space College,” Space College, 29-May-2014. [Online]. Available: http://spacecollege.org/isee3/we-are-now-in-command-of-the-isee-3-spacecraft.html. [Accessed: 30-May-2014].
[6] K. Cowing, “NASA Signs Space Act Agreement With ISEE-3 Reboot Project – Space College,” Space College, 21-May-2014. [Online]. Available: http://spacecollege.org/isee3/nasa-signs-space-act-agreement-with-isee-3-reboot-project.html. [Accessed: 30-May-2014].
[7] T. Pratchett, “a quote by Terry Pratchett,” Goodreads. [Online]. Available: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/789128-happier-than-a-terrier-in-a-barrel-full-of-rats. [Accessed: 30-May-2014].