Among accomplishments, massive discoveries and successful launching, there are also fails, including for NASA. One of the unfortunate events is when they lost track of one of their spacecraft two years ago. Nevertheless, it seems like luck is on the scientists’ side, as they received signals from the lost spacecraft last week.
The name of the missing and recently found spacecraft is STEREO-B. There is also an STEREO-A, and together they make NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories.
The initial mission of the two STEREO spacecraft was to orbit the Sun, in different directions. They were both launched on October 1, 2006, with the purpose of gathering information on the Sun. Their mission was supposed to end after two years, but it was prolonged for six more years. More time spent in space meant the spacecraft should be moving around and eventually reach a position that would block their contact with the researchers’ team controlling them on Earth. The Sun was placed between the spacecraft and the Earth, thus preventing contact.
Back in 2015, officials from NASA released the following statement:
“The sun emits strongly in nearly every wavelength, making it the biggest source of noise in the sky. 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.” (Dan Ossing, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland)
The spacecraft were equipped with a system which allowed them to reset in case they would lose contact with the base on Earth. Researchers first tested them, everything seemed to be alright with STEREO-A, but STEREO-B didn’t appear to work well. Eventually, they stopped receiving any data from the latter spacecraft.
STEREO-B has been out of researcher’s tracking system for 22 months, but they never lost hope. They have always been concerned about the lost spacecraft, and now they have finally regained contact with it. Their endeavor to find the spacecraft was comprised of a program of three hours a week destined to this task. They used technology and appliances specially designed for tracking items in space.
If October 1, 2006, was a memorable day for the NASA team because of the launching of STEREO-A and STEREO-B, 21 August 2016 is at least equally important. It stands for the day when they received a new signal from their lost spacecraft.
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia