A 35-year old space probe has come back to life after a 16-year slumber thanks to the world's largest single-aperture radio telescope. Using the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico, the ISEE-3 Reboot Project has re-established contact with the mothballed ISEE-3 space probe. The private organization took control of the unmanned ex-NASA spacecraft and is commanding it to execute functions as part of an assessment of its health before returning it to exploration service.

Despite being launched by NASA on August 12, 1978 atop a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the effort to recontact the ISEE-3 is not a NASA project. Instead, control of the space probe, which formally belongs to the Smithsonian, was given to the private ISEE-3 Reboot Project. The Project is made out of the team behind the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP), Space College, Skycorp and SpaceRef, and was funded in part by a crowdfunding campaign that wrapped up on May 18. The Project’s immediate goal is to regain control of the ISEE-3, fire its engine, and send it into a new orbit back to Earth.

ISEE-3’s main mission was to study the outermost boundaries of the Earth’s magnetosphere, make a detailed survey of the structure of the solar wind near Earth and to measure cosmic rays. Having completed its primary mission in 1982, it was temporarily renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) and sent on a flyby trajectory of the comet Giacobini-Zinner and the more famous Halley’s comet before being shut down in May 1997.

The Reboot Project is currently working on determining what shape the craft is in and getting the ISEE-3 to fire its engines for a series of orbital maneuvers, including a flyby of the Moon at an altitude of less than 50 km (31 mi). The ultimate aim is sending the explorer on another comet flyby mission. According to the project team, the data recovered by the reactivated probe will be crowdsourced.

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project says that more details of the first contact will be released next week on the group’s website.

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