Vintage ISEE-3 satellite makes long-awaited flyby on Sunday

Lunar flyby
An artist’s conception of the ISEE-3 satellite making a near lunar flyby.

ISEE-3, the vintage satellite that was retired by NASA and reactivated by a private group of scientists and engineers, will make an historic swing past the moon on Sunday as part of its long journey around the sun.

The lunar flyby will occur on Aug. 10 at 11:16 a.m. PDT, at which time members of ISEE-3 Reboot Project will begin collecting science data from the spacecraft’s instruments and make it available to the public.

On Friday, project members announced they had partnered with Google to create a new website for the spacecraft, and that they would conduct a Google hangout with team members and NASA representatives at 10:30 a.m. PDT on Sunday prior to the flyby.

Hangout session participants will discuss the spacecraft’s history, and its prospects for the future, according to a statement released by project member and former NASA astrobiologist Keith Cowing. Details for the session will be posted on the project’s official website, Cowing wrote.


Initially, members of the crowdfunded effort had hoped to return the 36-year-old spacecraft to Earth orbit, where it would monitor solar wind and radiation, which is called space weather.

But the reboot team was forced to abandon that plan, when the aging satellite’s propulsion system failed to work properly, and the satellite could not be repositioned.

Now, the team says it will continue to collect science data as the spacecraft continues along its sun-centric orbit and passes through the Earth’s magnetotail -- the long, trailing portion of the planet’s magnetic field.

It remains unclear how long the team will be able to maintain communications with the satellite.


After circling the sun, the spacecraft will swing by Earth again in about 17 years.

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