McDonald’s takes control of lost satellite

mcdonaldsAn independent team of boffins, working from an abandoned McDonalds, is taking control of a a NASA satellite and running a crowdfunded mission. The entire project uses old radio parts from eBay and a salvaged flat screen TV.

The ISEE-3 is a disco-era satellite that used to measure space weather like solar wind and radiation, but went out of commission decades ago.

Now, a small team led by a former NASA employee Keith Cowing,  has taken control of the satellite with NASA’s blessing.

The satellite’s battery has been dead for over 20 years, but it had solar panels to power 98 percent of the satellite’s full capabilities. When it was working it ran missions around the Moon and Earth, and flew through the tail of a comet.

Everyone knew it would come back in 2014, but NASA was not sure it was a project worth rescuing.

Since the satellite went offline, the team had retired, the documentation was lost and the equipment became outdated.

A crowdfunding campaign raised $160,000 to get the satellite back into service.

At the outset of the crowdfunding campaign, they brought the idea to NASA, but there was no precedent on which to base an agreement. No external organization has ever taken command of a spacecraft, but NASA didn’t want to say no, so they asked the team if they needed any help.

Their new control centre, has been dubbed “McMoon’s.” For their console, they pulled a broken flatscreen TV from a government dumpster and fixed the power supply. The other pieces are from eBay, including a Mac laptop and some radio parts.

With just those bare-bones pieces, they were able to MacGyver a computer-radio hybrid that made contact with the ISEE-3.

Once they were able to communicate with the satellite, they established a new orbit around the Sun, slightly larger than the Earth’s orbit. This will allow more testing. It will be providing solar weather data and then open sourcing it.

Google has been helping the team build a site that will open up the data to the world. Everything coming from the satellite will be available in different formats and packages so that anyone can get it.