The call went out yesterday from the ISEE-3 Reboot Group. They needed help to research a possible explanation for a nitrogen deficiency in the spacecraft’s fuel tanks. While the team had successfully communicated with the craft, firing the engines was proving difficult. On Wednesday the group zeroed in on a nitrogen deficiency as a possible explanation and turned to determining how to address such a problem. After a day of collaborative troubleshooting, the team determined possible options to heat the hydrazine tank on the spacecraft and/or clear the fuel lines.
That said, the team appears to be settling with the idea that firing may not be possible. Nature reports that the team is working on establishing a communications network to keep in touch with the ISEE-3 as it continues on a less controlled orbit. With 9 of the crafts instruments still working after decades in space, there is still information coming in, and it’s worth capturing for use back on Earth.
While it looks like the team will not accomplish its primary objective, its efforts are still quite commendable. With minimal oversight from NASA, a group of scientists has managed to reconnect with a spacecraft that had not been heard from in 17 years. Team members found the craft, established communication and executed commands using technology that, if not truly obsolete, was certainly out of fashion. This task is of a kind with how NASA mission control personnel in Houston managed to develop an adapter for the Apollo 13 crew to make from available equipment while thousands of miles from Earth.
You can learn a lot from failure.