In 2000, NASA launched a satellite to study the Earth’s magnetic field from space. TheImager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) satellite spent the next five years uncovering the details of Earth’s magnetic field and the auroras it causes, but in 2005 NASA unexpectedly lost contact.
At the time, NASA tried reestablishing contact with IMAGE, but after numerous attempts, the agency declared the satellite lost. It remained lost until early this year, when an amateur astronomer picked up the satellite’s signal while hunting for a recently-launched military satellite. Since then, NASA has been trying to secure its connection to IMAGE, but a recent announcement suggests that the satellite has been lost once again.
According to the update from NASA, the IMAGE team spent months attempting to establish contact with the spacecraft, and at first they were partially successful. They were able to send signals to the satellite and receive some information back, but even in the beginning there were problems. The signal from IMAGE was very weak, and the satellite didn’t accept most of the commands sent to it.
For instance, the IMAGE team tried to get the satellite to switch from using its medium-gain antenna to its low-gain antenna, but the last observations indicated that IMAGE has not listened. IMAGE’s low-gain antenna is omnidirectional, which would make it easier to pick up the satellite’s signal.
Since February, connection with the satellite has been intermittent at best, and since then the team has been sending troubleshooting signals without knowing if they have even been received. Recently, however, the IMAGE team has stopped receiving any signals at all from the satellite, which means IMAGE is likely lost again.
The IMAGE team will continue to try sending signals to the satellite, but it seems unlikely that they’ll ever get IMAGE to start working properly. There’s still an outside chance NASA’s troubleshooting efforts will finally pay off, but right now it’s looking like the IMAGE satellite, once lost and found, might be lost again forever.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics USA