Nasa has reestablished contact with a long-lost spacecraft, almost two years after it went missing into space.
Stereo-B, part of the $520 million Stereo mission, disappeared on October 1, 2014, during a failed test of some of the system’s functions.
Scientists have spent the last 22 months trying to communicate with Stereo-B again. The entire mission itself was only supposed to last two years after the two spacecraft launched in 2006.
Stereo’s main goal is to provide unique, front-and-back images of the sun thanks to two spacecraft, Stereo-A and Stereo-B, meant to work simultaneously.
Nasa’s Stereo team used the agency’s deep space network, a communications network for missions throughout space, to track down Stereo-B.
The network received a signal from Stereo-B at 6:27 pm on Sunday. The team monitored the signal for several hours to evaluate the spacecraft’s attitude.
They need to figure out whether Stereo-B can continue its mission after spending almost ten years in space.
Stereo’s team of scientists were testing a command on the spacecraft when they lost touch with it in October 2014.
They had anticipated a period during which interference would make it impossible to keep communicating with Stereo-B for a while.
So they installed a timer, meant to reset the spacecraft if it failed to communicate with Earth for 72 hours.
‘The sun emits strongly in nearly every wavelength, making it the biggest source of noise in the sky,’ said mission operations manager for the Stereo mission Dan Ossing in a statement.
‘Most deep space missions only have to deal with sun interference for a day or so, but for each of the Stereo spacecraft, this period lasted nearly four months.’
The Stereo team was testing this function when Stereo-B’s signal faded.
Stereo-A, the mission’s other spacecraft, continues to work normally.
Recovering Stereo-B will get easier with time, according to Nasa. The spacecraft is on a similar orbit to the Earth’s but is lagging behind.
This means Earth and Stereo-B are scheduled to lap in 2023 – and in the meantime, they only get closer to each other every day.
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