Welcome back to This Is Not Rocket Science!
When it comes to space, the story we seem to gravitate to in fiction are tales of rescue. This year, Ridley Scott’s The Martian lit up the box office with the tale of an astronaut in peril on Mars. Interstellar strove to save the planet. Apollo 13 said failure to bring back the crew was not an option. However, outside of that Apollo story, not many rescue-in-space tales happen in real life.
In October 2014, NASA lost contact with its STEREO-B satellite, orbiting the sun as part of a mission to bring a full view of the sun from all angles for the first time. Its Inertial Measurement Unit failed, sending the spacecraft into a spin without NASA’s knowledge of its exact location, and also prevented STEREO-B from properly charging itself. Without a proper charge, STEREO-B’s systems could fry and the craft could be lost forever.
“As of Nov. 30, 2015, spacecraft operators have had three three-hour blocks of time on the Deep Space Network each week to try and contact STEREO-B. The first two blocks are dedicated to building up the charge in the spacecraft’s battery by telling it turn off the flight systems that boot up automatically.” The goal; blast a signal the STEREO-B can read so that it will navigate into a position where it can fully charge itself and NASA can take full command of its operations again.
STEREO-B’s orbit, according to plans, is set to get closer and closer to Earth until 2023, when Earth will lap it in relation to the Sun. NASA hopes to pull STEREO-B out of its spiral by 2019.