Lost NASA Satellite is Discovered After Going Missing For a Decade

Saturday, 27 January 2018 - 4:29PM
Space
NASA
Saturday, 27 January 2018 - 4:29PM
Lost NASA Satellite is Discovered After Going Missing For a Decade
< >
NASA
When NASA launched their IMAGE satellite back in 2000, they were expecting the $150 million craft to have a long career of service as it photographed and studied the Earth's surrounding magnetosphere. But that career was cut short in 2005, went IMAGE suddenly went off the grid.

However, it apparently wasn't gone for good. This past week, astronomer Scott Tilley was perusing radio signals from satellites and attempting to track down the mysterious government ZUMA satellite that recently went missing during a malfunction on a SpaceX rocket. ZUMA never showed up, but he did eventually come across a signal from something titled "2000-017A." Being an astronomer, it didn't take him long to track down what that meant. 

Because it meant a few things. First of all, that number does indeed (as you've likely guessed) refer to IMAGE, which was tracked down for the first time in over 12 years. And beyond that, it meant that not only was IMAGE found, it was also still attempting to transmit data back to NASA, making Tilley the first person in ages to listen to the poor satellite.




This isn't to say IMAGE (short for "Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration" because as always, NASA loves acronyms) wasn't successful in its mission before it disappeared. It managed to study Earth's outer atmosphere and the way it responded to solar winds for several years, and helped NASA confirm that auroras were caused by charged particles from the sun interacting with Earth's magnetic forces, even if they had no way to measure that at first.

When IMAGE went missing in its fifth year, likely due to a disruptive power outage that left NASA unable to reconnect with the satellite, it was deemed a lost cause to attempt to look for it. It was unknown at the time whether it was still transmitting data that just wasn't arriving, although there was little reason to think that IMAGE's instruments wouldn't be functioning. And they do appear still to be functioning.

According to space plasma physicist Patricia Reiff from Rice University in Texas, everyone will still need to confirm that this is truly IMAGE back from the dead. But there's a very good chance the rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated. She said the following to Science:  

Opening quote
"The odds are extremely good that it's alive... The team is collectively holding their breath waiting for some real information exchange between IMAGE and the ground."
Closing quote


Now that it's apparently back, NASA is preparing to confirm as much as they try to reconnect with the satellite based on Tilley's findings. Once that's done, there's still a lot to be learned about Earth's magnetosphere, so IMAGE's return will be a welcome one at the space agency.

But the original subject of Tilley's search, ZUMA, is still out there somewhere. The US government never revealed it was is for, only that it's disappearance may have soured NASA's relations with SpaceX during their joint project.

So there's a good chance that search is still very much ongoing.
Science
Science News
Space
NASA
No