An American satellite abandoned in 1967 suddenly came back online and began transmitting again for the first time in 50 years.
Amateur astronomers first suspected that they’d found the satellite in 2013, but needed years to confirm that it was still occasionally transmitting. The satellite, dubbed LES1, was built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and launched into space in 1965.
A mistake in the satellite’s circuitry caused it to never leave its circular orbit, and it eventually stop transmitting in 1967. The satellite’s signal now fluctuates widely in strength, meaning that it’s likely only transmitting when its solar panels are in direct sunlight. Scientists expect that the satellite’s onboard batteries have disintegrated.
This is not the first a NASA solar probe was lost and found again. In 1998, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory lost contact with NASA but was eventually reacquired. NASA successfully rediscovered its Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories (STEREO-B) probe after 22 months of searching in August, establishing contact with the $550 million probe for several hours.
The STEREO-B probe was launched in 2006 to observe solar and space weather phenomena from deep space. The probe was lost in October 2014, but was only supposed to remain operational for two years. The spacecraft was set to pass directly behind the sun right before it was lost.
NASA is unsure STEREO-B is still functioning well enough to be scientifically useful, but its sister spacecraft STEREO-A is functioning normally. The space agency will likely need to study STEREO-B with the Hubble Space Telescope to get it back in working order, which can’t happen until at least 2019 due to research schedules and orbital issues.
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