Announcing the ISEE-3 Interplanetary Citizen Science Mission

After a successful reawakening the venerable ISEE-3 spacecraft is about to begin the first interplanetary citizen science mission.

In April 2014 our team set about bringing the 36 year old ISEE-3 (International Sun Earth Explorer 3) spacecraft back into science operations. Our plan was to contact the spacecraft, evaluate its health, command it to resume normal operations, fire its engines, and resume the orbit it originally occupied in 1978. Once science operations resumed, our plan was to make the data openly available to citizen scientists - in fact, anyone, anywhere - as soon as we received it from the spacecraft.

ISEE-3 Status Report 23 July 2014

We had a session with ISEE-3 today via Arecibo with support from AMSAT-DL/Bochum team in Germany. We engaged in "hammer mode" wherein we tried to open and close all of the latch valves repeatedly with the hope that this might get the propulsion system working. It did not. We then began to transition the spacecraft to science mode by turning on two additional science instruments. We'll post a detailed update tomorrow.

Planetary Radio Segment on ISEE-3


Keith Cowing and the Outrageous ISEE-3 Rebooters , Planetary Radio

"They have generated excitement, enthusiasm and support throughout the world. The ISEE-3 Reboot Project has succeeded in gaining control over the 36-year old spacecraft, but will they be able to move it."

ISEE-3 Current Location 22 July 2014

ISEE-3 Current Location 21 July 2014

Education and Public Outreach: Lunar Orbiter and ISEE-3

This poster presentation by Keith Cowing and Dennis Wingo was produced for the NASA SSERVI Exploration Science Forum 21-23 July 2014. Click on image for full poster (PDF)

Introduction

Any space mission worth doing should have an education and public outreach (EPO) component. An EPO effort helps to efficiently disseminate information to those with a specific interest in a particular mission. Done properly it also serves as a means to spur interest in space exploration in general amongst a much broader audience. With the use of various Internet and social media resources an effective EPO effort can now reach an audience in ways that were not possible a decade ago.

ISEE-3 In The New York Times

Lost and Found in Space: Rebooting ISEE-3: Space for All, op ed, Keith Cowing, New York Times

"NASA likes to say that "space is hard," but to make itself relevant to the people whose taxes fund it, it must get outside its comfort zone. To its credit, NASA saw the potential of our project to reach beyond the traditional audience. The interactions via social media with our supporters have borne this out. Imagine what feats of exploration might be possible if an empowered and engaged citizenry realized that exploring space is really something anyone can do."

ISEE-3 In The News

Vintage NASA Probe, Once Abandoned in Space, Still Has Fuel, Space.com

"After refusing to fire its engines last week for a course correction, a vintage NASA spacecraft did produce a bit of thrust Wednesday (July 16), proving it still has at least some fuel left after 36 years in space."

Citizen Scientists Get ISEE-3 Satellite Engines to Fire!, The Mary Sue

"The amazing people behind the ISEE-3 reboot project have gotten its engines to fire! They previously had trouble due to a lack of nitrogen to push fuel through the old satellite's fuel lines and into the engines, but some creative use of the satellite's tank heaters seems to have paid off and gotten things working."

ISEE-3 Status Report 18 July 2014

During our pass at Arecibo today we managed to get some propulsion out of thruster K. We're looking at how this was accomplished with an eye toward repeating it. We expect to do a DSN pass on 24 July so as to further refine the spacecraft's location. We are also working to start communicating with ISEE-3 from Morehead State University in the very near future. We also have one of many documentary teams at McMoons today to document our efforts.

ISEE-3 Status 17 July 2014

Our window with Arecibo opens tomorrow (Friday) at 12:13 pm ET. We will continue with our plumbing and electrical testing and see if we can get the propulsion system operating again.

ISEE-3 Reboot Project In The News

Space.com: To Restart Vintage NASA Probe, Private Team Turns to the 'Borg

"No one on our team is an experienced hydrazine expert," he said. "After receiving a few e-mails from people who offered suggestions on what might have happened, [we] decided to throw the problem out to the world. I was astonished at the response."
The July 10 post on the ISEE-3 blog and NASA Watch (Cowing's website) generated many suggestions, including some from "the most qualified professionals in the world," Wingo said, while declining to name names due to privacy concerns."

Crowdsourced Know-How May Put Salvaged ISEE-3 Spacecraft Back on Track, NBC

"After a series of setbacks, the decades-old ISEE-3 spacecraft revived by a team of experts may be getting back on track -- following input from a global community of aerospace experts. Space College, the group that resurrected the International Sun-Earth Explorer probe, wrote in a blog post Tuesday that asking for help on the project resulted in a flood of input, some coming from "the most qualified professionals in the world ... literally, the very top tier of experts."

ISEE-3 Status Report 16 July 2014

During our interaction with ISEE-3 today we tried a variety of valve and thruster selections using both sides of the propulsion system combined with tank and fuel line heating. Although we met with limited success we did get several instances of thrust (the main intent) and also a change in the Fine Sun Sensor angle of the spacecraft. So, something changed the trajectory of ISEE-3 albeit slightly. Also, the temperatures in the fuel tanks only rose a little bit which is what you'd expect of they were still full of fuel. This is good news since we were concerned for a while that there might have been a loss of fuel and/or pressurant. So ... we're analyzing the data and trying to sleuth out how we got the momentary thrust and then apply that to our next interaction with the spacecraft. We have applied for an extension to our license from NASA to transmit to the spacecraft and are awaiting their reply.

ISEE-3 Current Location 15 July 2014

ISEE-3 Reboot Project In The News

Space Dream Revived in an Abandoned McDonald's, Bloomberg View

"Can a group of citizen scientists working out of an abandoned California McDonald's re-energize U.S. space exploration? Thirty years ago, that question would have been the basis for a science-fiction novel, at best. Today, however, not only are the scientists and the McDonald's real, but the group has also commandeered a 36-year-old NASA space probe bound for an August fly-by of the Earth and moon."

The ancient mariner - A group of enthusiasts are waking up an old satellite, Economist

"The ISEE-3 Reboot Project, as these enthusiasts call themselves, exists to revive an old spacecraft. A very old one. It was launched in 1978, and has thus spent almost two-thirds of the entire space age, which began in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, in orbit around the sun. But in 1997 NASA decided ISEE-3 had done its job as a solar observatory and comet-chaser, and shut it down. Just in case somebody in the future wanted to try to revive it, the shutdown left the craft in standby mode. And that, as their name suggests, is what the Rebooters are trying to do."

Would-Be Rescuers of Wayward Spacecraft Previously Solved a NASA Mystery, New York Times

"Before reviving a zombie spacecraft, Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing traveled to the past to rescue a trove of early moon photographs that otherwise would have been destined for oblivion. They did not actually time travel, but that might have been easier. Mr. Wingo, an entrepreneur and an engineer, and Mr. Cowing, the editor in chief of the NASA Watch website, had confidence that they could decipher decades-obsolete NASA equipment, because, as Mr. Cowing said, "we've done this before." ... The earlier project involved 1,500 magnetic tapes and a couple of old, broken tape drives. In 1966 and 1967, NASA sent five robotic spacecraft, the Lunar Orbiters, to photograph the moon's surface to help find safe landing sites for the Apollo astronauts. The tapes, which recorded the original high-resolution images, and the tape drives ended up in the garage of a former NASA employee, and Mr. Wingo and Mr. Cowing embarked on a quixotic mission to retrieve the images."

Dennis Wingo: We are Now Living in a Science Fiction World. In the science fiction universe of Star Trek, set several hundred years in the future, when we are a spacefaring civilization, humanity encounters a species called the Borg. The Borg are a conglomeration of species who are assimilated into a collective mind numbering in the hundreds of billions. All of the Borg are connected to each other through a communications link that allows each of them to share each others thoughts, though in a manner that erases individuality.

This week, with the call that our ISEE-3 reboot team put out to the internet for help in debugging our propulsion system problem, I have come to realize that a significant portion of humanity has reached a Borg like state, one where the internet has become a collective mind for communications and knowledge sharing. We still have our individuality, we can still decouple at will from the collective mind, but in a way that few philosophers or technologists have envisioned, we are connected in a way never before thought possible. The implications are staggering, and here is how our little ISEE-3 project is an example of the operation of the collective mind.

ISEE-3 Status Report 15 July 2014

Our next window at Arecibo is tomorrow (Wednesday) between 12:19 pm and 3:03 pm ET. During that opportunity we intend to attempt a deep space plumbing repair on board ISEE-3 and then fire its engines.

Right now we still only need approximately 10 m/sec of Delta V for the Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) so we're looking good in terms of fuel reserves. Based on the number of thruster firings we achieve during that plumbing repair session we'll need to do some additional firings - possibly over the course of several days - all of which will constitute the TCM.

If you have ever had to clean our your car's carburetor and fuel lines then you have an idea of what we will be attempting. More details to follow.

Photos: An Insider's Look at ISEE-3 - Volume 2

"I have been following your effort to revive ISSE-3 with great interest since I worked on this project as an employee of Fairchild Space Company. Attached is a picture of the satellite in Hanger AE at the Cape. I am the second person from the right end and Rich Kramer is standing next to me on my right hand. On my left hand is Dick Collingwood and the three of us were the last people to work on the satellite on the pad prior to launch. Wishing you the best of luck. Ed Grebenstein"

Images copyright and courtesy of Ed Grebenstein. Click on images to enlarge

More images below

ISEE-3 Telemetry and Location Update 13 July 2014

Photos: An Insider's Look at ISEE-3 - Volume 1

These images were provided by Todd Kramer. His father, Richard Kramer, worked on the ISEE-3 project and took these pictures. These photos show the final assembly and testing at NASA GSFC in May 1978 after ISEE-3 was moved there from the Fairchild facility in Germantown, MD. We'll be posting more photos from Todd that show the spacecraft being transported to KSC, prepared for launch, and then launched. All photos are copyright Todd Kramer. Click on image to enlarge.

More images below

ISEE-3 Reboot Project In The News

Distributed Rocket Science is a Thing Now, io9

Less than two hours after sending out a distress signal for help, engineers who worked on exactly these types of propulsion systems emerged from the digital wilderness to offer their hard-won experience. What the team learned was a mix of good and bad: solubility probably wasn't the problem impeding the satellite's thrusters. Awesome, they don't need to fix that! Boo, they only have about two or three more options of things that are fixably bad to work on. And if none of those are the problem? Then this will be a glorious, exciting, exuberant failure, and ISEE-3 will continue on its orbit about the sun, leaving us behind once more. Good luck, team. We're cheering for you.

Volunteer engineers struggle to get ISEE-3 back in gear, The Space Reporter

Attempts to shift the craft's trajectory began on Tuesday, but ISEE-3 failed to accelerate. The team first thought that the craft suffered from a stuck valve, but after investigating further, they began to suspect that it did not have enough nitrogen left to provide pressure to its fuel system. If the team is unable to change ISEE-3's course, then the craft will fly around the moon on August 10 before resuming its orbit around the sun. The volunteer engineers look to gain more information about the craft's condition during Friday's radio communications session. Even if they fail to bring ISEE-3 into a stable orbit, the team still hopes to use it for scientific purposes while it is in the inner solar system.

The Tale of a Vintage Spacecraft That'll Never Make it Home, Discover

So we're left with the question "Is it better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all?" Cowing seems to think so. As he told SpaceNews on July 9, "We did stuff that was widely seen as impossible, improbable, and impractical. You need to focus on the absurd things that are possible." And it's focused minds on the usefulness of the past. The relentless advancement of technology is good for Mars rovers and Netflix streaming speeds, but it also means we abandon still-useful gadgets. And magnetic readings from the sun are magnetic readings from the sun, whether they come from a silicon-encrusted modern craft or a disco-era one.

Software Defined Radio and ISEE-3

The ISEE-3 Reboot Mission: a dream SDR application, Balint Seeber, Ettus Research

"Upon arriving at Arecibo, I knew I was in the right place when I walked outside the rear of the Visiting Science Quarters and found a dipole antenna in the backyard. This was in fact a riometer experiment, and the data acquisition board and laptop were left on my room's table. While exploring the main facility itself, one truly finds themselves in RF heaven. From the first glimpse of the top of one of the three towers supporting the platform that is suspended above the dish, to riding the cable car up to the platform itself with the dish appearing in a slow reveal, to jogging around the perimeter of the dish, the scale of the place is incredible. This, along with stories of birds being cooked by the S-band RADAR, and only 1 dB of loss across the RF waveguide that extends from the 2.5 MW (peak power) 430 MHz klystrons next to the control room, across the cat walk, and into the Gregorian Dome, conveys the seriously large (and tiny) numbers the science conducted at Arecibo deals with."

ISEE-3 Status Report 10 July 2014

We spent all day yesterday with space propulsion experts. We have identified a series of options including hydrazine tank heating and a long series of pulse attempts to (possibly) clear the lines. We have most certainly not given up on this spacecraft yet. It is doing science and will continue to do so for years to come.

We have a crowdsourced research project for our ISEE-3 Reboot fans. One of our volunteers, Karl-Max Wagner from Germany has an interesting idea. Did the Nitrogen pressurizing gas dissolve in the Hydrazine in the tanks?

This is something that we would like to research and for efficiencies sake and to get the job done quicker, we would like our project fans out there to help us in this research. I am reading an old USAF document on this now and it may be nothing, but it also may be something. We need to research the following:

- What is the solubility of Nitrogen in Hydrazine?
- What is the temperature dependence?
- Most important, what is the time required to dissolve 1 kg of Nitrogen in 15 kg of Hydrazine? This is an approximation for both tank systems of course.

This is important. Don't just throw stuff on the wall, help us research this.

Thanks!

Dennis Wingo

Send your thoughts to wingod@skycorpinc.com or post them in the comments section below.

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ISEE-3 Project on Rockethub.