[amsat-bb] AMSAT-DL and Bochum Observatory receive signal from retired NASA spacecraft

Peter Guelzow peter.guelzow at kourou.de
Sun Mar 9 06:17:57 PDT 2014

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AMSAT-DL and Bochum Observatory receive signal from retired NASA spacecraft

On March 1st and 2nd, 2014 radio amateurs were able to detect the beacon
signal from the retired NASA deep space probe ICE (International
Cometary Explorer) at the Bochum Observatory (Germany). After some
changes to the ground equipment and aligning the receive antenna to the
predicted position in the sky, the beacon signal could positively be
identified due to its frequency, the position in the sky and the
frequency shift due to the radial velocity (Doppler shift).

For this detection the 20m radio telescope from the Bochum Observatory
was used. In 2003, AMSAT-DL converted this former industrial monument
into a fully functional groundstation for deep space probes. Since 2009
the facility is being used by volunteers almost full time as ground
receive station for data from the STEREO mission with its two
spaceprobes monitoring the sun from different viewing angles.

The International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) was launched in 1978 and
became the first spacecraft to orbit the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point,
measuring the interaction between the Earth's magnetic field and the
Sun. It was the first spacecraft to detect the stream of particles
("solar wind") approaching Earth. In 1982, the spacecraft was renamed
the "International Cometary Explorer" (ICE) and diverted to the Moon,
where its gravitational pull placed ICE on a heliocentric orbit. In
1985, the comet Giacobini-Zinner was visited (the first time a comet had
been encountered by a spacecraft), followed by observation of Halley's
Comet in 1986. While the instrumentation on board was still functional
and fuel for more trajectory maneuvers was available, support for the
ICE mission was terminated in 1997, though the spacecraft transmitter
was left on. It was last detected by the NASA Deep Space Network in
2008. Its orbit however results in the spacecraft returning to
Earth-Moon space in August of 2014. A small propulsive maneuver and
lunar flyby could allow ICE to be directed into an Earth-Sun L1 halo
orbit and perhaps resume a science mission, depending on instrument
health. However in February 2014 a NASA study determined that the
required resources to contact the spacecraft were not available anymore
and due to budgetary constraints no further contact attempts were
planned. In light of the recent observations and the available
facilities in Bochum, additional studies about the economic feasibility
to add a suitable uplink are being done.

We would like to thank Jeremy Bauman from KinetX Aerospace (Tempe AZ,
USA) for providing the ICE trajectory solution which was essential in
finding the spacecraft and Jon D. Giorgini from the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (Pasadena CA, USA) for his support.


AMSAT-DL (short for AMSAT-Germany) is an organization consisting of
engineers, scientists, students, radio amateur operators and space
enthusiasts. They design, develop, build, operate and use satellites in
their spare time. In addition to ca. 600 members of AMSAT-DL other
national AMSAT organizations count in total about 6000 members. AMSAT-DL
is one of the few space organizations which lead satellite projects from
the drawing board through design stage and construction into the
operative service. AMSAT-DL projects strictly follow the open-source
principle so technologies and procedures can be used by third parties.
This includes also lessons learned and scientific results obtained
during the satellite's operation.

About the Bochum Observatory:

The Bochum Observatory is a recognized and sponsored higher-education
institution of the state Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany) and is also
funded by the 'Landeszentrale für politische Bildung NRW'. Next to
optical sky surveys the focus of the current work is the recording of
earth monitoring data from satellites. The main task is the scientific
analysis and the public presentation of this data to understand the
function of the 'earth system' and to characterize the effects and risks
of human actions in the context of globalization.

contact AMSAT-DL: Dr. Achim Vollhardt, ICEteam at amsat-dl.org

contact Sternwarte Bochum: Thilo Elsner, info at iuz-bochum.de
<mailto:info at iuz-bochum.de>, +49 177 50 70 797


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