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This Week in STEM: Bid to Reboot Aging Satellite Fails


ISEE-3 (Image Courtesy of NASA)

ISEE-3 (Image Courtesy of NASA)

This week a startup of a different kind – with the goal of literally reaching for the stars – had a significant setback.  The International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 was launched on August 12, 1978 to study the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind.  Later, it became the first spacecraft to visit a comet.  In 1997, it was officially retired by NASA.

A group of scientists, engineers and other space enthusiasts launched a project to re-establish communications with the satellite with the goal of shifting its orbit and re-launching its mission.  The group – called Skycorp – were able to raise over $150,000 on RocketHub (the crowdfunding site’s name is sheer coincidence!) and they actually did manage to re-establish communications with the satellite in May.  They were even able to re-fire the thrusters for the first time since 1987.  However, their subsequent attempts to re-fire the thrusters on Tuesday (July 8th) failed apparently due to a depleted supply of nitrogen.  This may be to a slow leak which decreased the pressure over time.  Unfortunately, though they are able to communicate with the satellite, it looks like they will be unable to complete their mission.

Despite the setback, this is an incredible example of what can happen when a determined team gets together with a common goal and uses the power of crowdfunding.  Very inspiring.

Congratulations to the Skycorp company for their extraordinary efforts!


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