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Citizen engineers make contact with retired NASA spacecraft

"We have successfully commanded both of ISEE-3′s data multiplexers into engineering telemetry mode," Skycorp member Keith Cowing wrote on Skycorp's blog.
By Brooks Hays   |   May 30, 2014 at 12:19 PM   |   Comments

LOS GATOS, Calif., May 30 (UPI) -- Engineers with Skycorp, Inc. -- the Los Gatos, California-based group attempting to reconnect with a retired NASA probe first launched in the 1970s -- announced Thursday they had successfully established contact with International Sun-Earth Explorer-3, or ISEE-3.

Last month, the citizen scientists signed an agreement with NASA which granted them permission to take over control of the spacecraft -- a craft NASA, for all intents and purposes, had abandoned to space. Now, the Skycorp team is one step closer to putting the probe back to work.

"We have successfully commanded both of ISEE-3′s data multiplexers into engineering telemetry mode," Skycorp member Keith Cowing wrote yesterday in a blog post. "The current bitrate is 512 bits/sec. We have been able to verify modulated data through ground stations in Germany, Morehead State in Kentucky, and the SETI Allen Array in California."

In layman's terms, they've established two-way communication.

It's an important first step, but now Skycorp engineers need to further analyze the health of the probe's systems and devise a plan for firing its engines. The craft needs to be moved back into a more stable orbit around Earth before it can be put back to work on various data-collecting jobs.

"When we are confident of the state of the spacecraft, we will be placing the bird in engineering telemetry mode as soon as possible," Cowing wrote, promising also to "keep everyone updated on this."

The engineers have a short window to figure out how to fire up the craft's engines. If they're unsuccessful, the probe's erratic orbit is expected to swing the craft out of reach for the next couple decades. If they're successful, it will be quite a coup for a rag-tag team of brainiacs who took on the project armed with $150,000 in crowd-funded finances.

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