ISEE-3: Ready To Come Home

ISEE

The team working to reboot the ISEE-3 satellite hurtling towards an August encounter with Earth is hard at work. They’ve put up a crowdfunding page, and now that they’re completely funded (don’t stop donating, btw), they’re starting to go deeper into the waters that will allow them to capture a forgotten satellite.

The project put up a status report going over what they’ve accomplished so far, and what work has yet to be done. For a few months now, they knew both transmitters aboard the craft were operational, but they were not sending telemetry. The team has gone through the documentation, came up with a set of commands, and are currently en route to Arecibo to transmit those commands.

Two ground station transmitters are being constructed, one specifically built to be installed at Arecibo for this application. The other is a portable, self-contained 700 watt transmitter that will be used at the official ISEE-3 ground station in Morehead State University in Kentucky.

With transmitters taken care of and receiving handled by an SDR from Ettus Research, a lot of work has focused on the command and telemetry systems.  In 1978, the user interface for commands and telemetry was primitive to say the least. The team is now working on a system built-in Labview that’s much easier on the eyes than the vintage text terminal screens.

So far, signals from ISEE-3 are planned to be received at Arecibo, Morehead State, and Bochum observatory in Germany. This will give the team extremely good coverage for most of a day, and there are other ground stations in California that will extend the time the team is able to communicate with ISSE-3 each day by a few hours.

There’s still a lot of work to be done; the team really doesn’t know what systems are still operating, although most of them did make it 20 years with only one fault. In the next few days, we’ll all get to see if this satellite will be up to the task of coming back home to Earth. If everything goes to plan, ISEE-3 will be on track towards a 17 hour burn to put it on the correct trajectory some time in mid June.

ISEE-3 Dream Team Needs Your Help

ISEE-3 Moon flyby

The mission to save ISEE-3 has is underway. The ISEE-3 Reboot Project has posted a crowdfunding campaign on Rockethub. When we first covered the ISEE-3 story no one had heard from it since 2008. Since then AMSAT-DL, an amateur radio group in Germany has received signals from the probe.

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is being managed by [Dennis Wingo] and [Keith Cowing], the same two men who spearheaded the effort to recover NASA’s Lunar Orbiter images from old magnetic tapes. They did most of their work using restored 1960′s equipment in a vacant McDonald’s.

The goal of the ISEE Reboot Project is to return ISEE-3 to its original Earth/Sun Lagrange point L1 orbit. Once safely back in orbit, it will be used for STEM education, amateur radio solar predictions, and for science about the sun. In [Dennis Wingo's] own words

If we can do this, we will have an open source, publicly accessible satellite data stream of the first open source satellite above Low Earth Orbit.

[Wingo] and [Cowing] aren’t alone in this effort; they are working with a venerable dream team. In addition to getting the nod from NASA, the team also has the help of [Dr. Robert Farquhar], the orbital dynamics guru who originally designed ISEE-3′s comet intercept orbit . [Farquhar] has an extremely personal reason to participate in this project. In 1982 he “borrowed” the satellite to go comet hunting. Once that mission was complete, he promised to give ISEE-3 back. [Dr. Farquhar] and his team designed the maneuvers required to bring ISEE-3 back to L1 orbit back in the 1980′s. This includes a breathtaking moon flyby at an altitude of less than 50 km. Seriously, we want to see this guy’s KSP missions.

Communicating with the ISEE-3 is going to take some serious power and antenna gain. The project has this in the form of a 21 meter dish at Moorehead State University in Kentucky, USA, and the Arecibo Observatory. Arecibo should be well-known to our readers by now. Moorehead and Arecibo have both received signals from ISEE-3. The reboot project team is also working directly with the AMSAT-DL team in Germany.

If this effort seems a bit rushed, that’s because time is very short. To implement [Dr. Farquhar's] plan, ISEE-3 must fire its thrusters by late June 2014. In just two months the team needs to create software to implement ISEE-3′s communications protocols, obtain and install transmitters at Moorehead and Aricibo, and send some basic commands to the craft. Only then can they begin to ascertain ISEE-3′s overall health in preparation for a thruster burn.

If  the ISEE-3 Reboot Project succeeds, we’ll have an accessible satellite well outside of low Earth orbit. If it fails, Issac Newton will remain at the helm. ISEE-3 will fly right past Earth, not to be seen again until August 2029.

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ISEE-3: We Get Signal

ISSE-3

Out in the depths of space, more than 100 times the distance from the Earth to the moon, there’s a lonely spacecraft gracefully spinning towards an August encounter with our planet. It’s ICE/ISEE-3, a probe long-forgotten by official space agencies. Now, the team dedicated to repurposing this satellite has made contact with this probe using a 20-meter satellite dish in Germany.

When we first heard about the planned communication by volunteers, no one was certain the probe was still alive. It shouldn’t be a surprise this satellite was still functioning; it was launched in 1978, and most of the instruments were still functioning in 2008. Still, this is the first time amateurs – not NASA – had received a signal from the probe

ICEteam, the group of volunteers dedicated to reviving this spacecraft used the huge dish at Boshum observatory to detect the 5 Watt carrier signal coming from the spacecraft. That’s all the probe is sending out right now – no data was received – but this is a huge accomplishment and the first step towards directing ICE/ISEE-3 into an orbit around one of the Earth-Sun Lagrange points.

Side note: Looking at the ephemeris data (target -111) I *think* ICE/ISEE-3 will be above the night side of Earth at closest approach. Can anyone confirm that, and does that mean a future mission at L2?

Video from the ICEteam below.

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Call for Hams and Hackers: Welcome ICE/ISEE-3 Home

ISEE-3, one of America’s most dedicated space exploration vessels is on its way home. Unfortunately, when it gets here, no one will be talking to it. NASA decommissioned the equipment needed to communicate with the satellite nearly 15 years ago. [Emily Lakdawalla] at the planetary society has been following the long traveled probe for years. Her recent article on the topic includes the news that NASA essentially gave up the battle before it even started.

Originally named International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3), the spacecraft was launched atop a Delta rocket on August 12, 1978. Its mission was to study interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and solar wind. As part of this mission ISEE-3 became the first spacecraft to enter halo orbit. It did this by positioning itself at Lagrangian point L1, directly between the sun and the Earth. In 1982, scientists on earth were preparing for the 1986 flyby of Halley’s Comet. ISEE-3 was repurposed as a comet hunter, and renamed International Cometary Explorer (ICE). The craft flew back to Earth and entered lunar orbit, coming within 120km of the moon’s surface. It used this momentum to achieve a heliocentric orbit, on track for two comet encounters. ICE/ISEE-3 encountered Comet Giacobini-Zinner on September 11, 1985, collecting data and becoming the first spacecraft to fly through a comet’s plasma tail. While not considered part of the Halley Armada, ICE/ISEE-3 took measurements as it passed within 28 million km of Comet Halley’s nucleus. Since then, ICE/ISEE-3 has continued on its 355 day heliocentric orbit. It studied coronal mass ejections in the early 90′s, before being shut down in May of 1997. Follow us past the break to learn ICE/ISEE-3′s fate.

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