Citizens raise $159K to reawaken NASA spacecraft

In 1997, NASA ordered the shutdown of the International Sun/Earth Explorer Spacecraft 3. Known as the International Cometary Explorer in its later years, the craft spent 19 years studying cosmic rays, comets and interactions between the Sun and Earth.

But ISEE-3 was never actually shut down. It has leftover fuel and most of its experiments are still operational. Later this year, a band of citizen scientists wants to reawaken it to do their bidding. And they now have $159,000 and the blessing of NASA to do so.

Space technology company Skycorp launched a crowdfunding campaign a month ago in hopes of raising the $125,000 it would take to develop the software, hardware and other steps necessary to contact ISEE-3. At the campaign’s closing Friday at 6 p.m. PT, it had raised a little more than $159,000.

The campaign’s completion comes only two days after NASA gave an official go-ahead to Skycorp to pursue contacting and controlling the spacecraft.  Astronaut and NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld cited the decision as “a chance to engage a new generation of citizen scientists” in a release.

The agreement dictates that Skycorp must address technical, safety, legal and proprietary issues before contacting ISEE-3. This is the first time NASA has handed over a spacecraft that is no longer in use to a non-government team.

From here, Skycorp will have to move very quickly to take control of ISEE-3. It must make contact within a month and then alter the spacecraft’s orbit by mid-June, or it will no longer be possible to bring it back to the Earth’s orbit.