The Long-lost Zombie Satellite

When you forget where you placed something precious, you feel a pinch of anxiety and pain. But consider finding it after some ten years, how would you think?

The thrill, excitement, and joy beyond imagination were flowing through every corner of  NASA’s workstation when an orbiter called IMAGE was spotted by an amateur satellite watcher flying in the sky, trying to connect with the earth as a child looks for his mother when he accidentally goes away from her. This lost child stayed in orbit for some five years before it disappeared suddenly. The scientists knew that satellites don’t last forever, hence accepted the fact that IMAGE was never going to show up again. But then a miracle happened, this January, after twelve years or more, it was found trying to search for mother Earth.  

 Jeffrey J.E. Hayes, program executive for missions at NASA headquarters, Washington stated that he never saw a lost spacecraft being found again ever in his entire career and that IMAGE is that one Zombie which became undead. Without adequate supplies, it is impossible for a satellite to function, this spacecraft kept performing without any control and contact system from NASA. 

 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has set up a team which is working to re-establish the connection and maintains steady contact with the spacecraft. The team is working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory where engineers Bill Dove, and Tony Garcia

are feeding and downloading signals to lock the communication channel. The signs were active in February but dropped out in March and returned in May. IMAGE is a $150 million craft first launched in 2000 to monitor the changes in the solar wind. It was the first spacecraft dedicated to producing visible images of the magnetosphere. It is a solar battery powered hexagonal satellite weighing 1087 pounds and having six specialized cameras to telecast pictures of the plasma in earth’s inner magnetosphere. This spacecraft performed significantly and helped in making 39 discoveries becoming the second most valuable space mission. The satellite stopped responding and was declared lost in December 2005, since then attempts were made to re-connect with it but all in vain. After several months of disappointment, the search was stopped owing to the cost involved. Since then there was no information about what happened to IMAGE.

 Until Scott Tilley, a hobbyist astronomer spotted it in Vancouver. He sent out the information to NASA, and they ran more tests to receive the signals. The new signals were located on January 26th  at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Hopkins APL then took the next crucial steps. The experience worked like magic and data from the satellite began to flow when the telemetric lock was cracked. However, that data was sent to NASA since Hopkins does not have the facilities to decode it. IMAGE was found to be healthy even after several years of disappearance. This states that a spacecraft can do bizarre things.