The International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) was a joint US and European spacecraft launched in 1978. It was initially deployed to the L1 Lagrange point, a spot between the sun and Earth where the combined gravitational forces of the two massive objects effectively holds smaller objects in place. From this vantage point, the spacecraft studied how charged particles from the sun, called the solar wind, interact with our planet’s magnetic field.
In the mid-1980s the spacecraft also had a career as a comet chaser: It was sent into orbit around the sun and directed to pass through the tails of comets Giacobini-Zinner and Halley, collecting data on their composition. The spacecraft was ordered to shut down in 1997.
But it seems someone forgot to flip the switch. Surprisingly, in 2008, the international Deep Space Network made contact with ISEE-3 and showed that it was still able to operate. NASA was interested in reusing it but couldn’t spare the funds.
Dennis Wingo of California-based aerospace firm Skycorp and Keith Cowing of space news site NASA Watch have raised more than $130,000 through online crowdfunding. In an unprecedented partnership with NASA, the team made first contact with ISEE-3 on 19 May with the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
They hope to order the craft to fire its engines in a few weeks and enter orbit near Earth, where it could provide solar wind data usable by the general public and the research community.
Syndicated content: Jacob Aron