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posted by martyb on Tuesday May 27 2014, @01:52AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the round-and-round-it-goes dept.

A group of crowd-funded amateurs, students, and NASA retirees are on the cusp of resurrecting and possibly taking control of a disused NASA spacecraft that has been coasting around the solar system since the days of disco.

On 21 May, NASA said it would allow the group to contact the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3), which studied space weather after its launch in 1978 and went on to study two comets. NASA stopped operating the spacecraft in 1997, but through the years the plucky probe has kept broadcasting a carrier signal.

The group, called the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, is installing a radio amplifier at the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. Sometime in the next few days, some of its members will use the powerful radio dish to try and exchange "tones" with the spacecraft. That handshake would be a first step toward regaining control of the spacecraft. In the subsequent weeks, the group would check the spacecraft's vital signs and attempt to move it into a new orbit.

Mission control would be from an abandoned McDonald's at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, says Keith Cowing, a co-director of the project and the editor of the website NASA Watch. Cowing says that the project shows how there can still be value left in projects that NASA deems worthy of discarding. "They left gas in the gas tank and the keys in the ignition," he says. NASA is not paying for any part of the project, and the group has crowd-funded its effort. By May 23, the project had raised more than $150,000. Cowing says that the money pays for radio transmission equipment, rental time on radio telescope networks to track the spacecraft, and travel for team members.

If it all works, it will be a vindication for Robert Farquhar, the 81-year-old who was the mission's original flight director. He has been advocating to revive ISEE-3 for years and notes that it still has plenty of fuel left. He believes that most of the spacecraft's 13 instruments should still be working. Farquhar wants to use the remaining fuel, along with a lunar swing-by in August, to redirect the spacecraft to an encounter with comet 46P/Wirtanen in 2018. "I think there's definite value," he says.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @02:02AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @02:02AM (#47710)

    It's how hipsters do begging: "Gimme money, bro, I'm cooler than you!"

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @04:07AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @04:07AM (#47733)

    What patriots!

  • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Tuesday May 27 2014, @05:09AM

    by aristarchus (2645) on Tuesday May 27 2014, @05:09AM (#47753) Journal

    Yes, this is almost so old that I cannot remember the obligatory XKCD, and have to ask the younger Solentils to utilize their Google-fu to locate it. Something about hacking the sky.

    But more to the point: is it the case that large bureaucracies cannot justify saving sunk cost in a way that "citizen scientists" can? Gosh, I love that term "citizen scientist"! As if there were any other kind. (Come here, AC, you know you want it! Come here! Citizen scientists are not rocket scientists, right? Even though they are actually proposing to control a frigging satellite, with _rockets_??? If I were trolling, it would be indistinguishable from Global Warming, I swear. And I do not normally swear. )

    --
    #Freearistarchus, again!!!!!1!!
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by evilviper on Tuesday May 27 2014, @08:27AM

      by evilviper (1760) on Tuesday May 27 2014, @08:27AM (#47802) Homepage Journal

      is it the case that large bureaucracies cannot justify saving sunk cost in a way that "citizen scientists" can?

      A few guys want to play missile-command with an ancient spacecraft. There is no more value to the ISEE-3 than that. It's a 1969 dial-up modem, floating in space. Calling it a pocket calculator would be far too generous, as it's not even digital.

      --
      Hydrogen cyanide is a delicious and necessary part of the human diet.
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Pslytely Psycho on Tuesday May 27 2014, @01:32PM

      by Pslytely Psycho (1218) on Tuesday May 27 2014, @01:32PM (#47891)

      http://xkcd.com/1337/ [xkcd.com]

      I'm 55, so not a young soylentil.

      However, (I am unfamiliar with the equipment on-board) if they can pull it off, even if they only get a few pictures or whatever. It still seems like a pretty inexpensive project. And as it is being privately funded, if nothing else, it may give a bit of a boost to interest in the space program(s), both private and NASA.

      Sure, it's going to return a minimal amount of science. But maybe it will have benefits elsewhere?

      --
      Alex Jones lawyer inspires new TV series: CSI Moron Division.
      • (Score: 2) by bucc5062 on Tuesday May 27 2014, @02:53PM

        by bucc5062 (699) on Tuesday May 27 2014, @02:53PM (#47925)

        That was one strip that whoosh and I normally get his stuff. Was the message, don't hack unless you are the best? Hackers hate probes? Why crash the system? Up until the last one it was fun to read, then he screwed it up (and yes, I rather like happy endings)

        --
        The more things change, the more they look the same
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @07:35AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @07:35AM (#47791)

    Because it's to do with spaaaace

    ISEE-3 Reboot Project [youtube.com]

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by evilviper on Tuesday May 27 2014, @08:22AM

    by evilviper (1760) on Tuesday May 27 2014, @08:22AM (#47797) Homepage Journal

    Trying so hard to justify the value in this project, belies just how little potential value there is. NASA considers it just PR, and I can't think of any other value to it.

    This is a pre-computer craft, all analog, with very few sensors, dating from the 70s. NASA sucked every last bit of use out of it, keeping it operating into the 90s. The data rate dropped to "64 bit/s (on December 27, 1991)." It's not going to be sending back pictures, or too much of anything else.

    Don't get me wrong... The idea is fascinating enough. Maybe this will be one tiny step towards more privatization of space exploration... OR it might be end with a whimper if they are not be able to establish communications with it in the next two weeks, when it'll be gone forever.

    --
    Hydrogen cyanide is a delicious and necessary part of the human diet.
    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Tuesday May 27 2014, @02:13PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday May 27 2014, @02:13PM (#47909)

      "NASA sucked every last bit of use out of it"

      The whole point of the discussion is they haven't, and a cometary pass is likely in its near future if all goes well.

      What we have here is pathological risk aversion. Volunteers don't have to worry about their kids starving homeless and without medical care if the experiment fails, they'll just go back to playing golf in retirement or whatever their unrelated day job is. "Publish or perish" scientists and their managers do have to worry about that unless it all goes pix perfect or at least they can't be personally blamed. Its too dangerous to their careers to attempt an experiment, although someone post-career or career-less could safely run the experiment.

      This is combined with downsizing and downscaling disease where the ability to do something "extra" implies someone in management failed to downsize or lied about downsizing or whatever, so there's coverup and corruption involved if NASA could do it. Supervisor #52156 is such a bastard, he lied when he said his budget couldn't be cut one penny more, look he's doing something extra/new, I was honest when I got my cuts so my team can't support the new idea, so fire that crook and promote me! This is unfortunately the most likely outcome for anyone who supports the experiment in an official capacity.

      • (Score: 2) by evilviper on Wednesday May 28 2014, @10:23AM

        by evilviper (1760) on Wednesday May 28 2014, @10:23AM (#48233) Homepage Journal

        cometary pass is likely in its near future

        Yes, but flinging a coffee table past a comet isn't USEFUL. This thing doesn't have the capabilities to tell us anything we didn't know.

        Volunteers don't have to worry about their kids starving homeless and without medical care if the experiment fails

        Success or failure has the same result... Nothing gained. Volunteers can tolerate failure, but their idea of success may also be utterly worthless, which it is in this case.

        --
        Hydrogen cyanide is a delicious and necessary part of the human diet.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28 2014, @04:07AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28 2014, @04:07AM (#48156)

      I did my dissertation on one of the experiments on ISEE-3/ICE. I don't recall there being any imagers on it. There are magnetometers and various cosmic ray particle detectors, all of which (fortunately) don't take up lots of data bandwidth.

      Commanding and controlling the spacecraft is one thing, but I wonder what they have in mind for collecting and handling data. NASA did the zero-level data handling, which I presume was to separate out the data for each of the experiments, package up the data, and send the data to the Principal Investigators. Do they know (or remember) how to do the zero-level processing? When we got our data, it was on tapes where the data were in overlapping segments. We had our own processing code to turn the data into useful data. Who is going to run those routines? Do the routines still exist?

      Let's say they are successful and send the spacecraft onto a cometary encounter. Who is going to process that data? Who can process the data? Who is going to have ownership of that data? It would take man-weeks, if not man-months to get the data processing reconstructed. Who is going to pay for that? I would LOVE to get some more particle data to analyze, but unless someone is going to send some money my way to work on it in any reasonable amount of time, it probably isn't going to happen.

      Fortunately, if they miss it as it comes by, all is not lost. It will be back in another 29 years or so and we can try again. :P

  • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Tuesday May 27 2014, @09:13AM

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Tuesday May 27 2014, @09:13AM (#47814) Journal

    Is there enough fuel left in this thing to bring it back to Earth and, um, "assertively de-orbit" it at a carefully selected set of co-ordinates?

    Remember kids, any interplanetary vehicle worth flying is, by definition, a potential weapon of mass destruction!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @05:43PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 27 2014, @05:43PM (#47985)

    disco never died, it went italo-disco, garage house, funky/french house, new disco.