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Ask Team Trying To Return 36-Year-Old Spacecraft From Space About Their Project

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the coming-back dept.

Space 53

samzenpus (5) writes "Last week we told you about a group that was trying to recover the 36-year-old ISEE-3 spacecraft from deep space. Led by CEO and founder of Skycorp, Dennis Wingo, and astrobiologist and editor of NASA Watch, Keith Cowing, the crowdfunded project plans to steer ISEE-3 back into an Earth orbit and return it to scientific operations. Once in orbit, they hope to turn the spacecraft and its instruments over to the public by creating an app that allows anyone access to its data. The team has agreed to take some time from lassoing spacecraft from deep space in order to answer your questions. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post. Hopefully the plan goes better than xkcd predicts."

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Change name of company (1, Funny)

PerlPunk (548551) | about 5 months ago | (#46859923)

Should be Skynet

Re:Change name of company (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 5 months ago | (#46860239)

Nope, Quark [wikipedia.org] is more appropriate. The only problem is who would play "the head?"

Re:Change name of company (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 5 months ago | (#46860675)

a quark reference? Well done...well done.

Guess this one can wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46859931)

Vacuum makes museum curators jealous.

Re:Guess this one can wait (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860981)

But the curators don't have to deal with cosmic rays.

Why wouldn't you focus on more productive things? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46859953)

Seriously ... this spaceship wasn't intended for a museum. It served its purpose and you are demeaning it by attempting to retrieve it. WTF? Why are we launching things if we're just going to try to get them back? We're better off not launching them to start with. We are best served focusing our efforts towards further exploration - looking forwards, not backwards.

Re:Why wouldn't you focus on more productive thing (1)

Jakeula (1427201) | about 5 months ago | (#46860385)

Its job is done. Its not like leaving it out there gives us anything new. What it can still do, however, is serve as a great teaching tool for future engineers and remind us of all the amazing things we have sent out into space.

Re:Why wouldn't you focus on more productive thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860615)

Um, I though the intent was to give it a new mission.

That's rather the opposite of putting it in a museum. Also with the shuttles grounded I don't think there are any (non classified) satellite capture vehicles in existence.

Re:Why wouldn't you focus on more productive thing (3, Informative)

kyrsjo (2420192) | about 5 months ago | (#46860693)

First: The purpose is not to retrieve it, but to reestablish comms and put it in orbit around the earth. It is currently in solar orbit, and the current orbit was planned so that such a capture would be feasible in the future, and that future is now.

Second: I think it would be really cool if one actually could bring it down to earth in one piece. There may also be some scientific insight to be gained from this - mainly how the probe has stood up to the environment of space, far outside the protection of Earth's magnetosphere.

Finally, it's a satellite, not a sentient being. It doesn't harbour any dreams of floating around in space forever, far from the oppressive commands of human engineers, basking in an infinite quietness only broken by periodic transmissions from it's tracking beacon. It's just a computer (or really, a sequencer), a really old one, which happens to be in space and connected to some instruments and a rocket engine. It wouldn't care if you took a dump on it's creaky old solar panels.

Re:Why wouldn't you focus on more productive thing (1)

kyrsjo (2420192) | about 5 months ago | (#46860741)

Other than that, I think it's a really cool project. Also, as far as I understand, they plan to bring students into this, which is great - I don't think there are very many other opportunities for students to work hands-on with interplanetary probes such as this, and that alone is probably more than worth the effort even if it fails.

Re:Why wouldn't you focus on more productive thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46863107)

Exactly.

Re:Why wouldn't you focus on more productive thing (1)

gmhowell (26755) | about 5 months ago | (#46863961)

Finally, it's a satellite, not a sentient being

V'ger scoffs at your anthropocentric notions.

Re:Why wouldn't you focus on more productive thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46897981)

gmhowell posts yet another 1 line fart for a reply!

Public Data Access (3, Interesting)

jshahbazi (3493817) | about 5 months ago | (#46860011)

If the project is successful, how do you envision the public being able to access the data from the satellite? Will it be a stream of everything, or will only selected instruments be available?

Re:Public Data Access (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46862169)

If the project is successful, how do you envision the public being able to access the data from the satellite? Will it be a stream of everything, or will only selected instruments be available?

Hi, this is Dennis Wingo, Co project manager of the project.

We envision the public being able to access the data through a web portal that will take the data in live and process it and show it to screens. IF there is enough interest and volunteers it will also be made available as a app. There is a great ham site (www.solarcycle24.com) that takes input from other satellites for the amateur radio community and we will do the same.

What is the value of this project? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860029)

So, if I understand this correctly, your group plans to bring ISEE-3 into LEO by using the satellite's own propulsion system to propel it into a stable orbit around the Earth via a trip around the Moon. What benefits does this offer to NASA, or to the scientific community at large, that isn't already offered by one or more existing satellites in LEO? I know you mentioned use as a "space weather" detector, but don't we have satellites up there already that can perform such a function?

Re:What is the value of this project? (1)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 5 months ago | (#46860125)

Second this question. If this is just duplicating information we already have, then it's nothing but a novelty project (and a job program for Skycorp).

Re:What is the value of this project? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46861521)

Second this question. If this is just duplicating information we already have, then it's nothing but a novelty project (and a job program for Skycorp).

Most of the instruments are still functioning.

How often do you get a chance to take a second set of measurements of the magnetosphere of a planet with the same instrument, but separated by decades?

Maybe the earth's magnetosphere has changed. Maybe the instruments have been subtly degraded during 36 years in space. Maybe a little of both. Reusing this spacecraft would provide an opportunity to learn about both phenomena over timeframes that would be prohibitive if you were to start today, and at a cost that is pennies on the dollar compared to launching a new spacecraft.

Re:What is the value of this project? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46863143)

Hi this is Dennis Wingo, part of the Skycorp job program..

If you are truly interested in finding out what the capabilities of the spacecraft are, I would suggest going to this site.

http://ntrs.nasa.gov

Search Terms

ISEE-3
International Cometary Explorer

You will find that the spacecraft has a wide and diverse set of instruments, some of which are not on any existing spacecraft (the low frequency RF experiments). The spacecraft when it was in operation in Earth orbit before was operating near the peak of Solar cycle 21, a cycle much stronger than this one. An interesting experiment would be to measure the plasma field and other parameters now, and compare them with cycle 21. Cycle 24 is less than half as strong as cycle 21. What differences are there in the solar/terrestrial interfaces to the solar wind.

That would be scientifically interesting for many reasons. Could we get this data with existing satellites? Maybe, but most of them are not focused on the solar terrestrial environment like this one. NASA is currently spending a quarter of a billion dollars to launch the DISCOVER (Otherwise known as Triana) and it only has a small subset of the instruments on ISEE-3

Re:What is the value of this project? (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 5 months ago | (#46860383)

What benefits does this offer to NASA, or to the scientific community at large, that isn't already offered by one or more existing satellites in LEO?

TFA has something to say about this:

But NASA does feel that the data that ISEE-3 could generate would have real value and that a crowd funded effort such as ours has real value as an education and public outreach activity.

This is like any NASA mission.. the person asking "what is the point of" is entitled to make their own value judgment regarding what is or is not worthwhile use of funds.

Were you inspired by XKCD? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860059)

How did you first hear about the ISEE-3 story?

Re:Were you inspired by XKCD? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 months ago | (#46860193)

How did you first hear about the ISEE-3 story?

Or by Star Trek [memory-alpha.org] ?

Costs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860127)

What do you expect the total costs of the project to be to lasso the soon to be sattelite and keep it running?

How do we know this will even work? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860233)

Another question I have is this: How do you know this project will even work? The XKCD comic claims that NASA sent a shutdown signal to ISEE-3 in 1998, which apparently was either not received or not properly executed. Is there any way of telling whether or not the control communications to the satellite even work anymore? What happens to the crowdfunding money if it is discovered that the comms equipment doesn't work, or that it's simply not feasible to build a system to emulate the original hardware controls in time to bring the satellite into Earth orbit?

Cites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860595)

You're citing an XKCD comic?

So, if you go for a PhD are you going to put stick figures in it?

Actually, for a political science PhD, stick figures would be quite accurate.

Re:Cites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46861145)

No, because in this case the XKCD comic is made by a guy who worked at NASA, and the facts are verifiable outside of that. The only thing XKCD got wrong is that the shutdown signal was apparently sent in 1999, not 1998. I'll do proper citations if I bother to go for a PhD (which I probably never will). For anonymous commenting on Slashdot, XKCD is good enough.

Re:Cites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46869373)

Hi this is Dennis again

There was NO shutdown signal sent in 1999 or at any other time. This is a myth. There was always a plan to recover the spacecraft.

Here is an article on this I did on my wordpress site.

http://denniswingo.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/the-international-sun-earth-explorer-isee-3-reboot-project-bringing-an-old-bird-back-to-the-earth-and-back-to-life-2/

This return was planned in 1987. The spacecraft transmitters were purposefully left on, including the ranging transponder.

Re:How do we know this will even work? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46862335)

Hi this is Dennis Wingo, co project manager of the ISEE-3 Reboot project.

We already know that the spacecraft's two transponders are transmitting. This gives a very good indication that the power budget is positive. We also know, by looking just at the received signal that the spacecraft is still spinning at about the same rate as in 1999. We also know that the last time the spacecraft was contacted, that the vast majority of the instruments were still functional. The spacecraft is in a very stable orbit from a thermodynamics perspective, meaning that with a benign thermal environment and a positive power margin there is every chance the the spacecraft is still fully functional. Our next test is of the receivers on the spacecraft, and that will happen sometime in late May, depending on some data that we are waiting on from NASA.

We also have the example of the two voyager spacecraft which are from the same era, with a lot of comparable hardware, that is still functioning. We have found documents with the degradation curve of the power system solar cells and we still have a good power margin for the instruments.

Also, and this is a bit of an update. We are already in process of procuring the transmitter and it will be delivered to our ground station in time for a contact. We have a team that has already done a lot of the work to redevelop the modem, the modulator/demodulator pair for the satellite. This is being done with software radio. The good part about this is that the modulation scheme and demodulation scheme on the spacecraft is primitive in comparison to today, and thus is easy to develop.

We also have a team redeveloping the telemetry monitors for the propulsion system the attitude determination and control system, and the power system. The team is already simulating that.

We also have far advanced orbital dynamics software, principally Satellite Tool Kit, from Analytical Graphics. That software will be used to refine the calculations for the engine burns to validate the hand calculations from Dr. Farquhar and Dave Dumham, the two scientists and engineers that did these calculations for all the previous course changes.

We have a great team for commanding the spacecraft, Tim Reyes, who has experience in this domain, as well as others that are coming on board now.

It is feasible and indeed is in progress to get this spacecraft evaluated.

The biggest issue will be updating the ephemeris of the spacecraft to refine its position for the orbit correction burn. That is a big dragon to slay but we are working that problem.

Do you read real good? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860423)

To the "team trying to return a 36 year old spacecraft," how many times did you have to read the title of this slashdot thread before you could figure out what the hell they were trying to say?

Legal issues (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46860703)

How have you addressed the legal issues around talking control of US government property?
Has NASA/ the Smithsonian given you their blessing?

Re:Legal issues (2)

MrLogic17 (233498) | about 5 months ago | (#46862191)

Another question - who owns it now? Are there any space equivelents to water based flotsam and jetsam?

If it's not in Earth orbit (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about 5 months ago | (#46860975)

What exactly is it doing?

Re:If it's not in Earth orbit (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about 5 months ago | (#46861041)

Nevermind. Another commenter mentions solar orbit.

What is the value? (3, Interesting)

bengoerz (581218) | about 5 months ago | (#46861053)

Other than the sentimentality, what are the real benefit of bringing ISEE-3 home? If the benefit is the data, what is the evidence that the "data that ISEE-3 could generate would have real value"? If the benefit is educational, which institutions have committed to taking part?

Re:What is the value? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46862201)

Check out the papers from the satellite's earlier life.

Go to http://ntrs.nasa.gov

Put ISEE-3 into the search window. There are literally dozens of papers about the bird, including a paper on using it as part of a real time warning network. We would love to implement this. If you look at the instruments on ISEE-3 they cover a very wide range of wavelengths and they would be very useful, even if just as a teaching tool for STEM education about solar-terrestrial physics.

36 Year Old Misplaced Modifier (2)

CosineHamster (2085234) | about 5 months ago | (#46861065)

I'm sorry that the space around their project contains a 36 year old spacecraft; it must be hard to set up furniture under such circumstances.

What?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46861285)

No hat? whats up with that? http://www.rockethub.com/projects/42228-isee-3-reboot-project-by-space-college-skycorp-and-spaceref/checkout/goods?goods[]=78329

Slashdot (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#46861503)

I know a lot of us waste large portions of our workday posting to Slashdot... but aren't you folks on kind of a time crunch?

Re:Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46863491)

Hi, this is Dennis again.

It does not take much time. We have a lot of good people working on the project. Also, if these answers to the negative questions convince some of you to donate to the project, the time is well spent. We have a lot of work to do, but we cannot do it without funding. We are leveraging what has been raised and we are doing a lot of work, hoping that the funding will be there in the end.

Never tell me the odds! (1)

MrLogic17 (233498) | about 5 months ago | (#46862209)

OK, level with us. What do really you think the odds are of you succeeding in getting this craft into stable earth orbit?

Re:Never tell me the odds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46864687)

Not part of their team, but I assume if they can establish contact more or less 100%. Orbital mechanics is fully understood and extremely deterministic.

Re:Never tell me the odds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46865077)

(Dennis Wingo again)

Well when we first started I thought that it was about 1%. Then when we heard both transponders, it went up to 25%. These are the things that we are doing now.

1. Getting a transmitter to transmit a signal to the spacecraft (in progress)
2. Develop the demodulator/modulator (also in progress)
3. Range to the spacecraft (this is the biggy. that we have to figure out)
4. Command the spacecraft into engineering mode (good chance)
5. Evaluate the health of the spacecraft (very reasonable chance it is fine)
6. Send commands to fire engine.
7. Put into Earth orbit.

six and seven are dependent on 5 but the chance of getting to five is at least 50% and then we will see.

Re:Never tell me the odds! (1)

knwny (2940129) | about 5 months ago | (#46865743)

6. Send commands to fire engine.

What propels the spacecraft(please excuse my ignorance but then I am not a rocketeer) and how do we know that we have enough of the stuff to complete its manoeuvres? Also, what happens if the results of Step#5 do not turn out to be too positive. Do you have any alternate plans of using it for some other purpose...maybe crash-land it into the nearest planet/comet/moon while it keeps transmitting atmospheric measurements?

Re:Never tell me the odds! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46869577)

The last estimate of remaining propellant was made after the last orbital firing in 1987. The fuel levels were reverified in 1999. There is about 150 meters/second of delta v left, enough to make the maneuver, if it is done before early July.

We have no plans to crash it into anything. Our plan is to return it to gathering good science for solar-terrestrial physics.

negative vibes (2)

deadweight (681827) | about 5 months ago | (#46862407)

What is it with all the negativity? This sounds like about the coolest hack ever. Who cares if the data is duplicated elsewhere? Are any of you selling your mother's kidneys to fund this or robbing banks?

Re:negative vibes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46866365)

I'm selling the kidneys of bankrobbers to fund it.

What can be gained? (1)

ganjadude (952775) | about 5 months ago | (#46862515)

As someone who has been following this for a few weeks now I think this is a great idea. What can be learned by capturing this machine? By that I mean what can we use here to get young kids interested in space again? When I was a kid, we had an amazing show with the comet slamming into Jupiter, I look at that as the time I got interested in space. If we can capture this machine, is there a way it can be used as a teaching tool for younger kids?

Will you be selling media rights for this ? (2)

slincolne (1111555) | about 5 months ago | (#46863253)

It sounds very interesting - the kind of stuff that National Geographic would cover off.

Have you contacted any media organisations about selling the rights to film and publish this?

It might be a good way to get further funding for this work.

Re:Will you be selling media rights for this ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46865087)

We were on National Public Radio today and tons of online media.

http://www.npr.org/2014/04/28/307766256/to-save-a-satellite-former-nasa-guy-takes-crowdfunding-to-space

NPR today

Lets use it for Bitcoin mining! (1)

MrKaos (858439) | about 5 months ago | (#46865471)

Yah!

Re:Lets use it for Bitcoin mining! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46874389)

This is Dennis Again

You may not believe this, the spacecraft does NOT have a computer on board. Not one line of software :)

What does ISEE-3 bring to the table? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46869871)

If this spacecraft becomes publicly accessible, what sort of data could we get from it? Specifically, what type of instruments will the public have access to on this satellite?

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