After over a decade of having no contact with ground control, NASA's lost satellite was discovered by an amateur astronomer.
The discovery of Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration or IMAGE opens the possibility of continuing its already successful mission.
IMAGE Phones Home
On Dec. 18, 2005, NASA's ground control did not receive telemetry signals from IMAGE during a routine pass and the satellite did not respond to any commands since then. At the time, there was a number of possibilities that could have caused the failure but it was ultimately attributed to an "instant trip" of the controller that supplies power to the satellite's transponder.
Over a decade after its last signals were detected on Earth, IMAGE seems to be phoning home. It has just been discovered, still broadcasting, by an amateur astronomer who was not even looking for it in the first place.
In a blog post, Scott Tilley describes that while searching High Earth Orbit for signs of the mysterious Zuma satellite, he detected signals from satellite 2000-017A instead, the IMAGE satellite thought to have been long dead.
More data gathering confirmed that the signals were from IMAGE indeed. However, when his original blog post did not get the attention of anyone who could possibly do something with the discovery, he contacted the principal investor of IMAGE, Dr. James L. Burch, last Jan. 24.
Two days later, he got a confirmation from Richard J. Burley, former ground system manager and mission director of IMAGE. Burley said that the engineers at Goddard Spaceflight Center have detected a signal consistent with IMAGE.
Project scientists at NASA are holding their breath as they attempt to make contact with IMAGE using deep radio antennas.
IMAGE's Successful Mission
After it completed its two-year mission, IMAGE continued to provide NASA with valuable data and discoveries which have appeared in over 400 peer-reviewed publications and over 20 Ph.D. theses. Before it lost contact with ground control, IMAGE had already been orbiting the Earth for almost six years.
Through the years, it was said that there is a chance for IMAGE to essentially reset itself when it enters an eclipse, which could trigger its systems to restart. Evidently, such instances occurred last year and five years ago, possibly providing IMAGE with the chance to make contact with ground control again.
As it stands, NASA already has a mission that is currently flying in part to follow up on IMAGE's discoveries and naturally, IMAGE's full functionality and state remain to be seen. Still, it is an exciting notion to have a long lost satellite back to work after over a decade of having been "lost in space."