NASA announced regaining contact with one of the lost spacecraft from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories that was supposed to monitor the Sun from vantage points inaccessible from Earth.
The lost spacecraft is named STEREO-B and stopped all communications to the commanding base on the 1st of October 2014. Contact was reestablished during a monthly recovery operation performed by the Deep Space Network.
The Missions Operations will try to diagnose the health of the spacecraft, to evaluate all its subsystems and onboard instruments, and to start the attitude control. Another thing is to save battery power, as the spacecraft has been circulating in space for almost nine years.
The spacecraft had an automatic reset button that activated the transmission after three days with no contact. It was in one of these particular moments when NASA caught track of STEREO-B.
The scientists expected news from the spacecraft in December 2015, when it moved into a position that permitted it to receive radio signals.
The initial mission started in October 2006, and it was prolonged beyond the scheduled two years because of its success in offering views of the Sun’s side hidden from the Earth.
Scientists say that it is very difficult to operate a spacecraft that has extended its original lifespan. STEREO surpassed with almost eight years its initial life duration, staying alive for nearly four times longer than expected.
Moreover, the Sun interferes profoundly with any communications, as the star emits intense radiations in almost every wavelength. In the most cases, the Sun interference lasts for only a day, while the space vehicle goes in and out of the influence of the star. However, STEREO had to last three months in an area that excluded any communication with the Earth.
The Lost Spacecraft
The initial loss was caused by an Inertial Measurement Unit that fed incorrect information to the guidance and control computer. This caused the spacecraft to move on a path that kept its solar panels in shadow, which means it had a hard time in getting its batteries charged.
The researchers are now trying to get the spacecraft to charge correctly, as the small amount of power it manages to obtain is consumed by automatic processes and therefore almost nothing is left to stir up transmissions to Earth.
NASA has recovered spacecraft before, such as the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory which has been out of contact for six weeks. However, STEREO-B is situated at a much larger distance, almost 189 million miles away from our planet.
Because the signals sent by the lost spacecraft are frail, NASA is working with the largest telescopes in the world to look out for any transmission. The Green Bank Radio Telescope, the Allen Telescope Array, and the Arecibo Observatory will all be listening for STEREO-B.
Image Source: Wikipedia