NASA Makes Contact With Long Lost Spacecraft After Two Years
After two long years, NASA has finally reestablished contact with one of its spacecraft. STEREO-B was cut off from NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) since October 2014. The space agency surprisingly picked up a signal from the space craft with help from the DSN.
The DSN is an international network of large radio antennas which is mainly used for communicating with NASA spacecraft. It had maintained communication with STEREO-B, which was one of two spacecraft included in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO).
It was the goal of NASA's program to study the sun and understand its behavior better. In addition, STEREO intends to solve the origins of coronal mass ejections, which are explosions of charged particles from the sun. These massive plasma bursts make its way to the earth and collides with its magnetic field. This in turn causes geomagnetic storms that damage communications satellite plus messes up the power grid of planet earth.
In the hopes of studying the origin of the solar outbursts, STEREO-A and STEREO-B were launched by NASA in 2006. STEREO-A was positioned ahead of the earth, whereas STEREO-B was launched behind the earth. Yet, STEREO-B drifted far off from the orbit and has been offline for two years. NASA had reset the spacecraft in 2014 after communication was cut. However, thanks to NASA's DSN, communication with the spacecraft had been successful.
"The very hard and scary work is just beginning," explained Joe Gurman, a STEREO project scientist. "This spacecraft was designed to be as autonomous as possible when it ran into trouble. If we turn on the computer, which is the only way we can get insight into what is wrong with the spacecraft ... what got us into this mess in the first place could turn back on again."
Now that communication is back on, NASA is trying to set back STEREO-B back towards the sun by sending out instructions in the course of six months.