Given how vast space is, it’s no wonder that some things that get lost out there may never be found again. But spacecraft STEREO-B has a happier ending — NASA was finally able to communicate with it again after two years of silence.
STEREO-B is one of two spacecrafts from the Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory mission. It lost contact with its team on Earth on October 1, 2014, Gizmodo reports.
On Sunday night, scientists at NASA were able to reestablish contact after searching for 22 months.
NASA’s Deep Space Network, a tool the agency uses for tracking space missions, locked onto a signal from STEREO-B.
STEREO-B and its partner STEREO-A launched in October 2006 on a two-year mission to measure the sun’s flow of energy to Earth. One of them was slightly inside the Earth’s orbit; the other was just outside. The positions allowed scientists to measure energy from various angles, and later on, the far side of the sun — a first in space exploration.
But there was a slight hiccup in the set-up. One of the spacecrafts was due to go around the opposite side of the sun from Earth. This meant a three-month wait during which communication would not be possible. Since the mission was designed for only two years, this problem was overlooked when the project launched.
The spacecrafts were supposed to reset after 72 hours without contact, so scientists decided to test and see if they could reestablish a signal when it was in its reset period. They figured the communication system would turn itself back on. However, only a weak signal came through after the first reset, and nothing more was heard from STEREO-B.
In 2015, scientists speculated that the reason the tests failed is because the sensor that was telling the spacecraft how fast it was rotating malfunctioned, sending it out of control. In the meantime, STEREO-B’s batteries powered by solar panels were unable to generate enough power to turn it on.
Since scientists lost contact with STEREO-B, they have been using the Deep Space network in attempts to reach it, giving the task three hours weekly. This proved tough, as they had no idea where exactly the spacecraft was.
The newly found STEREO-B will still need to be recovered. Scientists are planning further processes to make sure it is still functional and have spent hours testing its operations. Recovery might take years. In 2019, the team will be able to use Hubble to see the spacecraft and test it.