NASA attempting to contact satellite it lost contact with over a decade ago

NASA said it has acquired time on the Deep Space Network to focus on the source and determine whether the signal is indeed IMAGE.

NASA attempting to contact satellite it lost contact with over a decade ago
Image courtesy: NASA

New Delhi: In the year 2000, when NASA launched its first satellite devoted to imaging the Earth's magnetosphere – the region of space controlled by the Earth's magnetic field and containing extremely tenuous plasmas of both solar and terrestrial origin – they didn't expect to lose contact with it five years down the line.

Now, more than a decade after losing contact with the Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) satellite, an amateur astronomer discovered that it is 'possibly alive'.

NASA is now making attempts to contact it once again. "We are attempting to contact the IMAGE satellite via the Deep Space Network after an amateur astronomer reported making contact in mid-January," NASA tweeted.

Scott Tilly, the astronomer who spotted the signs, wrote on his blog earlier this month that he picked up a signal from a satellite labelled "2000-017A, 26113" which he knew corresponded to the IMAGE satellite.

NASA had earlier said that it has acquired time on the Deep Space Network to focus on the source and determine whether the signal is indeed IMAGE.

Now, confirming its identity, the American space agency has said that the signal is certainly IMAGE.

"On the afternoon of January 30, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, successfully collected telemetry data from the satellite. The signal showed that the spacecraft ID was 166 - the ID for IMAGE," NASA said.

The NASA team was been able to read some basic housekeeping data from the spacecraft, suggesting that at least the main control system is operational.

"This process must take into consideration the vintage nature of the spacecraft, and includes locating appropriate software and commands to potentially operate the mission," the US space agency added.

If IMAGE is revived, its orbit will be well positioned to monitor Earth's northern auroral zone, said Patricia Reiff, a space plasma physicist at Rice University who was also a co-investigator on the mission.

"It is really invaluable for now-casting space weather and really understanding the global response of the magnetosphere to solar storms," Reiff added.

(With IANS inputs)