Returning A Lost Sheep To The NASA Fold

About three weeks ago, we reported that a satellite enthusiast in Canada found an unexpected signal among his listening data. It was a satellite, and upon investigation it turned out to be NASA’s IMAGE satellite, presumed dead since a power failure in 2005 interrupted its mission to survey the Earth’s magnetosphere.

This story is old news then, they’ve found IMAGE, now move on. And indeed the initial excitement is past, and you might expect that to be it from the news cycle perspective. But this isn’t the Daily Mail, it’s Hackaday. And because we are interested in the details of stories like these it’s a fascinating read to take a look at NASA’s detailed timeline of the satellite’s discovery and subsequent recovery.

In it we read about the detective work that went into not simply identifying the probable source of the signals, but verifying that it was indeed IMAGE. Then we follow the various NASA personnel as they track the craft and receive telemetry from it. It seems they have a fully functional spacecraft with a fully charged battery reporting for duty, the lost sheep has well and truly returned to the fold!

At the time of writing they are preparing to issue commands to the craft, so with luck by the time you read this they will have resumed full control of it and there will be fresh exciting installments of the saga. Meanwhile you can read our report of the discovery here, and read about a previous satellite brought back from the dead.

Picture of IMAGE satellite: NASA public domain.

48 thoughts on “Returning A Lost Sheep To The NASA Fold

    1. Yeah kinda tabloid-y. We refer to it as Dailyfail. About as reliable and unhyperbolic as HuffPo or even WaPo with its “teenager twitter account” like stream of useless and often contradictory click bait (always called editorial for safety reasons) news articles. It has made reading the news impossible. I just do a daily nuke check in the morning and then read the local crime reports smdh.

    2. I take it you are not British, if you were you would know that the Daily Mail is well known for its lack of integrity. It is primarily a source of celebrity gossip, sensationalism and speculation. It is aimed at the least educated section of society who don’t have the ability to apply reason to what they read. It has a reputation for creating a scandal out of the most mundane of things and inciting fear and hatred.

      The Daily Mail has convinced a sizeable proportion of their readership that the world is a nasty place with at least one pedophile, murderer and rapist in every street. Everything is a conspiracy and your wife is having an affair. Saying The Daily Mail not a reliable source is a major understatement.

  1. For anybody interested here in hunting satellites, contributing to a shared open satelitte ground station network, I’d encourage you to check out the satnogs project, they won the HAD prize a few years back, you can build their open source antenna designwith some basic parts, arduino, pi and an SDR stick. They gave a great talk at FOSDEM last week that you can check out here:
    [video src="https://ftp.heanet.ie/mirrors/fosdem-video/2018/Janson/satnogs.webm" /]

    1. Thanks for the tip, spacedog. Looks highly doable :) Our neighbor’s kid is just getting into them having seen a “moving star” the other night. Gonna pass the link on to his dad. We may build one this weekend :)

  2. Reading the NASA timeline document impressed me with the number of scientists, engineers and techies who came together to verify the ID of the satellite, and how quickly they worked. Not surprising, since all of them must love a mystery and a challenge.

    Oh, and “well done” to Scott Tlilley (and his wife) for finding, tentatively IDing the satellite and figuring out who the PI was, and having the guts to call him up out of the blue.

    Folks, *this* is a perfect example of why you should spend tax dollars on science education in grade and high schools, fund research institutions and NASA.

    1. And all this genius enthusiastic work done by some peaple. I’m impressed, too.

      It makes me sad that the other guy recently has no better idea than sending a stupid car into space. so much good and more educational, experimental, researching could have been done with that cargo capacity.

        1. Why not add some hobby projects/amateur projects/shed made projects that otherwise never would have a chance to fly? I can’t imagine that there aren’t some projects laying around, readily done with only the verdict “too expensive, not enough capacity slots to shoot you”.

          But what do I know…. I’m just asking, if there werent more usefull things to give at least a 50/50-chance.

          1. Because logistics and publicity. Plus, what if it blew up? Hopes and dreams, dashed. Safer, and I think, smarter, to do something a little silly rather than put anything of value at risk. Plus, giving away free rocket rides sets a bad precedence.

          2. The thing ha a boot, or trunk, or a rear storage area. (Pick your own!) So we just don’t know what else hitched a ride up on the car. And that includes its back seats. Plus we still don’t know what the suit wanted for its reading materials.

  3. I can imagine that IMAGE will respond to NASA’s first command with;
    “Why should I do that for you, after you left me here hanging for a decade without even one word from you, not even a “Thank You” or “Good Job”? Now, when you have been jilted by your last satellite, you come crawling back to me, expecting me to jump at your command and do your bidding as if nothing happened…” Then IMAGE starts broadcasting Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive!”

    1. NASA’s scientists are smart enough to thwart that. NASA will start by uploading a rickroll “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you…”

      And while IMAGE is fretting over that, NASA quickly sends it commands to erase it’s memory and reset the clock to 2005. :P

    1. When it goes into eclipse, there’s no power from the solar panels. If the batteries run out, then there’s no power to the satellite and everything shuts down. Once it moves out the eclipse, it would power up again rebooting the computer.
      The batteries go bad with time which in this case would be good because it would force a reset.

      Lots of old satellites go “zombie” when they are told to shut down, but when their batteries run out, they reboot and wake back up. As long as they see the sun, they go back to transmitting which may not be a good thing causing a lot of noise on that frequency.

      1. Satellites have different ways to trigger reboots and resets. I recall that one ham radio satellite was given a wrong command and ended up with its downlink transmit frequency in the same band as its uplink command frequency, swamping the command receiver such that it could no longer hear a reset command.

        They fixed the problem by finding a time when it’d pass over a NASA 200+ foot deep space telescope at Goldstone. As it did, a “reset” message was sent on the proper frequency with an effective power thanks to that huge antenna, I was told, of six gigawatts. That was enough to get through the swamped receiver and reset the satellite. Afterward, the design was changed so that, if the satellite’s configuration was not altered for a certain number of days, it would automatically reset to a default configuration.

        Here is Goldstone, which is almost heaven for geeks.

        https://www.gdscc.nasa.gov

        And here’s a fascinating page where you can watch JPL’s Deep Space Network antennas in use:

        https://eyes.nasa.gov/dsn/dsn.html

    2. My guess on that is an extended period in the “dark” would prevent the solar cells from charging the battery. After a long enough time, the battery will be exhausted and the satellite will be effectively powered off. Once sun hits again, satellite gets power from solar cells, begins charging batteries, and at some point powers back on. If everything happens correctly, then satellite is effectively rebooted.

  4. Oh dear – I was just scrolling through the comments ( on my phone ) and started noticing something like “thankyou for your feedback” popping up on the bottom of a few comments – it was then I realized I was inadvertently touching the report comment button.

    Sorry for the randomly reported comments .

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