NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland has confirmed that the satellite discovered on January 20 by an amateur astronomer is very likely the lost Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) space weather satellite. The space agency says that it will attempt to capture data from the orbiter and restart its instruments.
Alerted by the amateur astronomer Scott Tilley, who picked up the satellite's signals while looking for a lost American spy satellite, GSFC coordinated monitoring of the object using five different radio antennae. NASA confirmed that as of Monday the signals from all five receivers show characteristics consistent with those expected from IMAGE and that their oscillations show that the object is spinning at the same rate as was last recorded for the satellite.
NASA says that the next step will be to capture and analyze data from the satellite. This will involve some reverse engineering as, despite being a relatively recent spacecraft, the hardware and operating systems for IMAGE's Mission Operations Center are already obsolete and either no longer exist or have been updated many times.
If the data recovery exercise works, NASA engineers will attempt to restart the science payload to determine the satellite's status. The space agency will then make a decision on the spacecraft's future.
Launched in 2000 on a two-year mission to study Earth's magnetosphere and return data for the first comprehensive global images of the plasma populations in this region of space, IMAGE was undertaking a mission extension when it lost contact with mission control on December 18, 2005. Despite several attempts to reestablish contact, including the hope that it might reboot itself when it passed into eclipse in 2007, the satellite was given up for lost.
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