NASA Approves Crowdfunded Spacecraft Revival

A spacecraft now known as ICE (formerly ISEE-3) launched in 1978 has been inspecting comets and solar wind on-and-off since launch until 1999 when it had supposedly been sent signals to shut down. In 2008 it was “rediscovered” and found still in an active state with most of its experiments in working condition and a suitable amount of maneuvering fuel still available.

Sometime before April of this year a group not affiliated with NASA realized that ICE could potentially be sent off to follow another comet and return interesting data if they could communicate with it during a close approach to Earth in mid-2014. A crowd funding effort was launched and closes today after reaching more than their $125K goal.

Yesterday NASA announced that they’re officially handing over the “keys” to this group so they can work on communicating with the spacecraft. But of course nothing is that simple. The original communication equipment is long gone, even the original dish used to communicate with the spacecraft is out of commission, so the proud new “owners” will have to search through old NASA documents to find out what commands to send and write new software to actually send them. And they’re working on a shoestring budget to revive an almost 40-year-old spacecraft! An awesome example of how citizen science can take over where government-funded science left off.

Update: here’s an interesting alternative take from the IEEE regarding the recent advances in embedded systems and software defined radio that are helping the team rapidly prototype devices for communicating with ICE.

Update2: I don’t know how I missed their proper site with an update today that they have established two-way communication with the spacecraft!

Update3: Bummer. After establishing contact with the probe and some successful test engine firing, the engines are no longer working. It seems like the spacecraft can still communicate and will continue to send back data, just not from the comet interception it was planning.

Fri, May 23, 2014