In what sounds like the basis for a creepy sci-fi film, NASA picked up a signal from a long-lost satellite earlier this year, but they haven’t been able to get any more communication since then.
In 2000, NASA launched the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE). Its mission was to create a detailed blueprint of the magnetic field surrounding the earth. It was an important mission because this magnetosphere is what protects the planet from solar radiation. In 2005 the space agency lost contact with the satellite and NASA chalked it up as a loss. However, in January a stray signal was detected by an amateur astronomer. Upon studying the communication signal picked up by the astronomer, NASA verified that it had come from the IMAGE.
Soon after, NASA personnel and engineers with the John Hopkins University began the task of re-establishing a stable communication channel with IMAGE. The work carries some weight as securing dependable communication lines would allow researchers to study the data stored on board the spacecraft and determine if there is any value in trying to recover the craft. After all, the magnetosphere is still something that warrants our attention, especially with the ever-increasing concern of global warming.
When the signal was first received, and research began, things looked promising. The transmissions allowed engineers to recover information regarding some of the spacecraft’s systems, including its batteries. The fact that the IMAGE still has power suggests that it might be beneficial to launch a salvage mission. However, after just a few weeks the communications with the spacecraft once again stopped. Since then, NASA has only been able to establish an occasional blip of communication with IMAGE.
In an official statement from NASA last month, it was announced that communication issues with the spacecraft have not improved. Researchers are still not able to secure a dependable line of communication, so no further information has been sent or received. If the spacecraft is ultimately abandoned, it would join the ranks of nearly 18,000 pieces of space junk floating around the area immediately outside of the earth’s atmosphere.