WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- The IMAGE spacecraft launched on March 25, 2000, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was NASA’s first satellite designed to imaging the Earth’s magnetosphere.
- After five years doing its mission, the satellite blinked off in 2005.
- NASA called it a mission, thought IMAGE was forever lost in space until an astronomer found it.
NASA launched The IMAGE satellite in 2000 to study the Earth’s magnetosphere. It was designed for a two-year mission. After its signal blinked off in 2005, it was considered lost in space.
Twelve years later, amateur astronomer Scott Tilley found it.
Tilley was scanning the S-band frequency range looking for Zuma, the supersecret U.S. government spy satellite. The satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral by a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster but reportedly failed to reach orbit this month.
Unable to locate Zuma, the astronomer found a different signal instead. An “identity scan” showed the satellite was something called IMAGE.
“I did a little Googling and discovered that it had been ‘Lost in Space’ since December 18, 2005, after just dropping off the grid suddenly,” Tilley shared in a blog post.
“NASA considered the spacecraft a total loss due to a design flaw that manifested while the spacecraft was in its extended mission,” he said.
“The NASA failure review did, however, conclude that it was possible for the spacecraft to be revived by permitting a ‘Transponder SSPC reset’ after it passed through eclipse in 2007,” Tilley continued. “One must assume that didn’t occur in 2007 and they gave up.”
NASA confirmed Tilley’s rediscovery of IMAGE afterward. NASA and Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., plan to separately attempt re-initiating contact using deep space radio antennas this weekend.
“The odds are extremely good that it’s alive,” Rice University space plasma physicist Patricia Reiff told Science magazine. Reiff was a co-investigator on the IMAGE satellite mission.
“Right now, the team is puzzled as to why it appears the spacecraft’s rotation rate has slowed, which may make communication more challenging,” she said. “The team is collectively holding their breath waiting for some real information exchange between IMAGE and the ground.”
Reiff added that IMAGE’s capability was unmatched. “It is really invaluable for now-casting space weather and really understanding the global response of the magnetosphere to solar storms,” she said.
If IMAGE is revived, its orbit would be “well positioned to monitor Earth’s northern auroral zone,” according to Science.
In 2014, contact with ISEE-3, which visited comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985, was shortly re-established years after communications stopped. Attempts to revive the craft, however, eventually failed.