ISEE-3: We Get Signal


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.

35 thoughts on “ISEE-3: We Get Signal

  1. I remember reading about this recently (thanks to xkcd, no less) and saddened that no official agency was *able* to communicate. I didn’t know the details, but it seemed ludicrous that a multi billion dollar agency couldn’t dedicate a little bit of money towards this project. I am, however, very happy to see amateurs picking up the reins!

    1. One thing to consider is that most space agencies can’t afford to keep watch on every satellite (or other space vehicle) that may be out there, since they are generally publicly funded. As nice as it might be, it’s just not practical to expect the general public to be enthused enough about a decades old space vehicle to want to fund a watch over it.

    1. Night side is perfectly useable, because You know the earth rotates around the sun so the night side is always the same direction. You do know that….. right? so night side means from 8pm to 8am local time for the most part, lower if you are more nort or south of the equator and depending on the season.

      12 midnight on every single part of the planet is in the middle of the night side.

        1. A point of the Earth that is facing inward to Solar orbit and closest to the Sun is in 12:00 at all time, and 24:00 if it’s facing outward and at farthest point. Anything away from the Sun more than the Earth is is always on night side of the Earth.

  2. OK, this is way cool. Hardcore hacking at its best. Put this on your resumes: “searched for, successfully communicated with and repurposed an abandoned spacecraft.”

    If *that* doesn’t get you hired, nothing will.

  3. Reliability. I love it.

    You’re probably dealing with a traveling-wave tube amplifier on ISSE-3. You don’t really have to worry about the vacuum tubes leaking now do you…

  4. The thing that really bothers me about probes like this that they keep working. We have one probe that it has existed the solar and will some day contact an alien world of machines. Seriously though these 60’s and 70’s crafts keep working while a sun spot kills my cable and phone for hours. What can we learn from these older methods? I would love to start a project to recreate the functionality of these probes.

    1. Both Voyager missions together cost $865 million.
      I doubt your cable connection cost anywhere near as much to build, even including laying the cable from your house to the exchange, and all the equipment at both ends.
      You get what you pay for.

    2. The concepts in action here were likely: redundancy and stability. Your telco probably uses things like: perceived value, and “features”.
      As phuzz also pointed out, it’s alot easier to over-build something with an endless budget (especially if there’s anything of a space-race going on).

    3. Older methods are robust but also resource-consuming. ENIAC, for example, was probably never affected by a sun spot. Now let’s pick an LPC810. It might be weaker than the ENIAC radiation-wise, but it cost about 50 cent each and runs for months with single Lithium coin cell.

  5. The City is called Bochum, not Boshum…. It is incredibly interesting to read about the history of the observatory wich is build up by Mister Kaminski. It started as a Volkssternwarte (Observatory for the people) to teach them about Science and Space. Mister Kaminski build then a radio-telescope all by his own. Bochum, as part of the Ruhr-Area, was i highly industrial city with coal-mining and steelworks of all kind, to get funds for the facility Mr. Kaminski wrote to all the big people like Krupp, Thyssen etc and asks them for a little favour: If i open up a observatory and make a opening-party… what will you bring? Put it on the list there… Most of them wrote little things in the list like a few beers, some sausages for BBQ and so on…
    Well, the opening came and he wrote to all of them on the list: Hey, remember? You told you would come an bring a few beers/saussages etc. I would be happy to see you there!

    And they came all to visit, and they all got what they listed… and a few things more! Things like Money, connections to other people and scientists, materials for the building and so on.
    Mr. Kaminski himself was a man of lesser education and teached himself everything, he was so commited to his works that his wife was once asked what she liked most: a few tiles for the bath… He spend every Deutsche-Mark in this project!

    My father knowed this man, and i know his son who keeps the business alive.
    It is one of the seldom things in this world that is a good example for people.

    For further reading:

    Sorry for the long post, but i am a bit proud of this observatory :-)

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