NASA engineers test and evaluate the International Sun-Earth Explorer C (ISEE C) inside Goddard's dynamic test chamber on Nov. 6, 1976. NASA launched the 16-sided polyhedron from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Aug. 12, 1978.
For the first time, NASA has agreed to work with a group of citizen scientists to resurrect a spacecraft the agency is no longer using and has no plans to use again.
NASA announced that the agency has signed a Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement (NRSAA) with Skycorp, Inc., a space systems company based in Los Gatos, California, on Wednesday.
The NRSAA allows Skycorp, Inc., to attempt to communicate with and possibly control the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft.
The ISEE-3 was launched in 1978 to study solar winds streaming to Earth — it completed this primary mission in 1981. NASA then redirected the spacecraft to observe comets with the remaining fuel and instruments. After completing that second mission, the ISEE-3 was put into orbit around the Sun. NASA ended the ISEE-3's second mission on May 5, 1997 and shut down the spacecraft.
The group of citizen scientists from Skycorp, Inc. thought there was still life in the spacecraft and started the ISEE-3 Reboot Project. NASA officially told the group that there was no funding to support the ISEE-3 reboot effort and that it was of little formal priority for the agency, despite believing the potential data the spacecraft could generate is valuable.
Now, as the ISEE-3 makes its closest approach to Earth in 30 years, NASA and Skycorp are attempting to communicate with the spacecraft. The goal is to command it to fire its engines and enter an orbit around Earth. Once successfully in orbit, the plan is to have the ISEE-3 continue its 1981 mission of observing comets, rechristened as the International Comet Explorer (ICE).
If communications are unsuccessful (this will have to happen no later than mid-June), the spacecraft will pass by the Moon and head back into orbit around the Sun.
Skycorp has been crowdfunding its ISEE-3 Reboot Project and has raised more than $150,000 of its $125,000 goal for the project. The money will be used to pay the costs of writing the software to communicate with the spacecraft. The crowdfunding campaign will end on Friday.