NASA has confirmed that they have acquired contact with the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) satellite. The satellite was found by an amateur astronomer who had been looking for the classified Zuma spacecraft.
In mid-January, Scott Tilley, a self-professed ‘amateur visual and radio astronomer’ came across a satellite in High Earth Orbit while looking for a recently launched US spy satellite. On January 20, Tilley published his findings on his blog noting that the satellite was labelled 2000-017A, 26113, a designation he discovered to belong to the long-lost IMAGE satellite.
A week later, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland set about confirming that it was, in fact, the long-lost IMAGE satellite. Researchers used “five separate antennas to acquire radio frequency signals from the object.” On Monday, January 29 they confirmed that radio frequency characteristics were consistent with those of IMAGE.
On January 30, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland made contact with the satellite and successfully collected telemetry data. “The signal showed that the spacecraft ID was 166 — the ID for IMAGE,” explained an update on the NASA website. NASA has, up to this point, only been able to read basic housekeeping data from the spacecraft.
In a press release, NASA explained that their next step will be to attempt to turn the satellite’s science payload on. “NASA will seek to turn on the science payload — currently turned off — to understand the status of the various science instruments.” This may be easier said than done though.
Over time, most of the hardware and operating systems required to control IMAGE have been lost, dismantled or upgraded. The IMAGE Mission Operations Center, for instance, no longer exists. The result is that no one really knows how to contact the satellite.
NASA’s last contact with the IMAGE satellite was in 2005. On December 18 of that year, the satellite unexpectedly failed to make contact. In 2007, engineers hoped that an eclipse might reboot the satellite’s systems. However, when it didn’t, the mission was declared over.
Image Credit: NASA