After almost two years of orbiting around the Sun by itself, the Stereo-B spacecraft re-connected with NASA. The Stereo-B spacecraft is nine years old and it has been drifting through the cosmic void without any signal for around two years.
NASA released a statement on Monday, acknowledging that there is now contact between the Stereo-B solar observatory after 2 years of trying to get some signal from the spacecraft. The spacecraft has an identical twin, named Stereo-A and the two machines were supposed to work in tandem.
Stereo-B was roughly 189 million miles away from Earth when the space agency made contact. Both Stereo crafts, one named A for “ahead” and the other named B for “behind” were supposed to study the sun in tandem, following Earth-like orbits.
By watching these two crafts circling the sun, scientists can study eruptions and look at the Sun from different angles.
It also enabled NASA to get great 3-dimensional views of solar flares, plasma loops, and other phenomena going on.
The mission cost 550 million dollars and should have ended in 2008. But because it was successful and gathered interesting information, NASA kept it in place.
On October 1st, 2014, Stereo-B went into reset mode and lost contact with the ground. NASA tried using the Deep Space Network, over the past 22 months, to get into contact with Stereo-B. They finally made that happen on August 21st, 2016.
Joe Gurman, the Stereo project scientist, believes that everyone is still anxious because the hard part of the work is only beginning.
Because of the malfunction, the spacecraft cannot be completely computer-controlled and the NASA team will have to rely on a secondary system, to make sure the solar panels are oriented correctly.
The Stereo spacecraft have a novel design, which is different from all the other satellites out there. They have a command loss timer, an automatic reset button and are generally more autonomous than other spacecraft.
The operation of the Stereo spacecraft in orbit is difficult because they exceeded their lifespans and the orbit around the sun is tricky to maintain. Also, the sun emits all sorts of radiation on almost every wavelength, so it’s a huge noise source. This can interfere with communications.
Image Source – YouTube