Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sorry, did you say something?

Can we forget how to talk in 35 years?

The International Sun Earth Explorer (ISEE3) was launched in 1978 to study solar winds and later re-tasked to rendezvous with Comet Giacobini-Zinner and Halley but has been mostly shut down for the last 30 years. Its orbit will bring it back into communication range in August. While it would be cool to send a wake-up call and see if we can park it in Earth orbit to see what 30 years in space does to a satellite, we have lost the ability to talk with the thing.

Emily Lakdawalla posts her wistful report on the Planetary Society blog, noting that the ISEE3 was meant to be fully shut down but somehow the carrier signal was left on, so a wake-up call was never intended.

The article offers an intriguing look at how the pace of technology consigns our old hardware to the scrapheap (as well as the interplay between bureaucracy, financial decisions and nostalgia). The transistorpunk element develops in the comments that follow the article. The first responses suggest recruiting philanthropic billionaires to fund a new communications array, but HAM radio operators promptly jump in and point out that they can hear the carrier signal no problem. If the original communications specs and instruction set were available we could open source the project and attempt to talk with ISEE3 using a software emulator and a $300 laptop.

Imagine if citizens could corral defunct satellites and create an open source orbital network.

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