Are you tired of NASA, ESA, other space agencies, the military and most governments (does that cover just about everyone?) lying to you about what’s going on in space? Do you think you can do better? You probably can, if the discovery by one amateur astronomer recently is any indication. While listening for spy satellites (and using his real name – a brave fellow), he found a satellite that NASA lost contact with in 2005 and gave up for dead. Something switched it back on and now NASA is suddenly VERY interested in this astronomer’s findings.
On his blog, “Riddles in the Sky: A blog dedicated to observing, mostly classified, satellites,” Scott Tilley reveals that he was actually looking for ZUMA, the mysterious classified spacecraft that may or may not have been launched by SpaceX on January 7th – while SpaceX says it did its job and deployed the satellite, no communications seem to have been made with it … nor have there been any reports of it crashing. Theories range for it being a new stealth satellite that faked its own crash or its mission was brief and it destroyed itself.
On January 20th, Tilley found some unusual non-ZUMA data.
“I noticed a curve consistent with an satellite in High Earth Orbit (HEO) on 2275.905MHz, darn not ZUMA… This is not uncommon during these searches. So I set to work to identify the source. A quick identity scan using ‘strf’ (sat tools rf) revealed the signal to come from 2000-017A, 26113, called IMAGE.”
IMAGE (Imager for Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration) was NASA’s first satellite dedicated to imaging the Earth’s magnetosphere. It was launched in March 2000 and operated flawlessly for over five years until it unexpectedly stopped on December 18, 2005. A Failure Review Board determined that a one-time event (NASA-speak for an unexplained glitch – aliens?) apparently tripped a power controller and turned it off (really?). The report concludes that something could reset the controller and bring the satellite back to life, but it didn’t say what. Gremlins? Aliens? A secret mission by SpaceX?
News of Tilley’s blog post quickly reached NASA and it began to carefully attempt to locate the signal and determine if it’s really IMAGE or something else. (Is anyone keeping track of things out there?) A statement from NASA explained:
“NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has acquired time on the Deep Space Network (DSN) to focus on the source and determine whether the signal is indeed IMAGE. This process must take into consideration the vintage nature of the spacecraft, and includes locating appropriate software and commands to potentially operate the mission. We will share more information as it becomes available.”
And it surprisingly did. In another statement on January 29th, NASA confirmed the good news that the signal is indeed coming from an newly-awakened IMAGE … and the bad news that:
“The types of hardware and operating systems used in the IMAGE Mission Operations Center no longer exist, and other systems have been updated several versions beyond what they were at the time, requiring significant reverse-engineering.”
In other words, no one kept the floppy disks, ZIP drives or other antiquated media with the software on it to communicate with IMAGE. They’re probably now going through the list of retired engineers to see if anyone wants to come back and work on it. They should demand triple-pay at least.
Once the software is updated, NASA will try to turn on the science payload again and see if anything still works. This could be great news since IMAGE was the last mission to study the global impact of magnetic storms.
If that happens, it would be a nice gesture if NASA let Scott Tilley peek into the secret room where the secret ZUMA files are being stored.