Talking To ISEE-3


ISEE-3, the plucky interplanetary spacecraft fueled by the dreams of thousands of crowdfunding backers and hydrazine is now transmitting data to Earth.

Where all radio contact with ISEE-3 this year has only been a carrier frequency, the folks at the reboot project have successfully commanded ISSE via the huge Arecibo telescope to transmit data back to Earth. Usable data are now being received at 512 bits/second at ground stations in Germany, Kentucky, and California, surely being looked over by the ISEE reboot project engineers.

Simply transmitting the commands to put the data multiplexers into their engineering telemetry mode was no small task; a power amplifier needed to be built, shipped to Arecibo, and installed in the giant dome hanging over the Arecibo dish. The amplifier was only installed in the last day, during an earthquake, no less.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before the project can go any further; the team will need to check the status of the spacecraft from the data received, more systems will be checked out, and eventually the spacecraft will be commanded to perform a 17-hour long burn with its small thrusters, putting it on course to be captured by Earth some time in August.

It’s an amazing achievement to do any sort of communication on this scale, and now events in the ISEE-3 mission timeline will be coming rather quickly. We’re trying to organize a video/blog/cast thing with the team from NASA Ames or Morehead State, but the team is, understandably, a little busy right now.

18 thoughts on “Talking To ISEE-3

  1. This is great news. Props to the folks in the reboot project who pulled this off.

    Pardon the editorial nit, but as written the second paragraph is confusing. Surely it wasn’t the Aricebo telescope which was commanded to transmit data back to earth, but rather the ISEE-3.

  2. Too bad we no longer have a way to snag that probe and bring it back to Earth for study of very long term exposure of materials to the environment outside cislunar space. (Assuming the thing has enough fuel to be put into a low earth orbit where a Shuttle could grab it.)

    1. You know how we antropomorphize the Mars rovers? Eventually, humans are going to land on Mars, and when we get there, a great deal of study will be made in the area of materials science in Martian conditions. The best way to do this is study hardware that has already been on Mars for a while, and the Mars rovers are already in interesting places that humans might land.

      Just like how Apollo 12 took the easiest to detach part of Surveyor 3 – the camera – future mars explorers will grab the easiest to detach part of the Mars rovers – the camera.

      So those spunky little rovers, one of which is still going 10 years later, will have its antropomorphized eyes ripped from its sockets, it’s head torn from its ligaments, and the mutilated carcass left to buried in the Martian sands. Like a good rover should. A good rover like they wanted.

      1. Why would humans ever go to Mars? What is the attraction for a human to go to Mars? Going to Mars seems like a lot of trouble to get to an inhospitable place to me. The risk is high and reward is low. But perhaps you know something about Mars that I do not so I will ask again, why would humans ever go to Mars? It seems like a waste to me. Especially when you consider we could probably send 10,000 more robot missions to Mars for what one human flight would cost.

        1. Why would humans ever go to Antarctica, the North Pole, or the bottom of the ocean? Because we can. Never because we should.

          Honestly? It’s a foothold on the rest of the solar system, I suppose a lot of people would say. For all its lack of hospitality, it’s about the closest thing to a welcoming environment we’re going to find, outside Earth’s bosom.

    2. A shuttle can’t grab it. The shuttle fleet is retired, the tooling for the production lines long gone… hell, some of the original companies involved in making the STS don’t even exist anymore.

      Instead of bringing it back to study, we potentially have something better: a functioning open-source satellite located in a libration orbit.

      1. Oh come on now you’ve seen the movie so you must know that we have a secret Shuttle all fueled up and ready to fly Bruce Willis to any asteroid that might be on a collision course with Earth.

  3. Note to editors: it seems that the articles concerning the ISEEE-3 don’t all have the same tags, and because of that I had trouble finding the first article about it (I wanted to share details of the ISEEE-3 itself to my gf). The first article, is tagged with ICE/ISEEE-3 but this article is only tagged ISEEE-3 , so following the tag doesn’t show you the first article.

  4. Anyone know if the C3 (Command/Control/Communication) links to this legacy bird had any crypto. Typically modern launch vehicles (and say NRO birds) are running military grade encryption on those links to prevent someone in their garage workshop from hijacking the controls.

    I can assure you the RSO (Range Safety Officer) has crypto on the “self destruct” button for any launch out of say Vandenberg (and absolutely for a KSC shuttle launch). Those RF links have a CCI box hung off them and are classified.

    So does this bird have a classified crypto box to protect the control path ?

    1. The ISEE-3 doesn’t even have a full computer onboard, let alone crypto. The control system is just a simple state machine, and the instruments are buffered by glorified tape recorders. Also, it’s worth noting that NASA has officially given the ISEE-3 Reboot team permission to take over the spacecraft. If there had been any access control measures in place, NASA still would have opened it up for them.

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