back to article NASA finds satellite, realises it has lost the software and kit that talk to it

NASA has announced it will try to wake up the “zombie satellite” IMAGE, unexpectedly found working by an amateur sat-spotter. Magnetosphere scanner IMAGE went silent, and was presumed dead, back in 2005. Then this month, while looking for the US military's failed Zuma satellite, skywatcher Scott Tilley caught a signal from the …

  1. Doctor Evil

    So -- confirmed. Well done, Scott Tilley of Roberts Creek, BC, Canada. Thumbs up from right across the Strait.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not wanting to take away from his claim to fame and the effort he has put in but it was an accidental re-discovery - a case of luckly to be looking in the right place at the right time.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "a case of luckly to be looking in the right place at the right time."

        In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind. Pasteur.

        1. dajames Silver badge

          "a case of luckly to be looking in the right place at the right time."

          In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind. Pasteur.

          Nice one. So ... he was lucky to be looking in the right place at the right time, but at least he has the nous to understand what he was seeing.

          Seems fair.

          1. Dinsdale247

            I don't see what's lucky about spending years of your life preparing for the chance to catch a signal. You think he just accidentally had a receiver and decoders sitting around his house?

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Yep, in a similar vein

          The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …”

          (Usually attributed to Isaac Asimov)

      2. EarthDog Bronze badge

        Often that is how Astronomy works

      3. emess

        Not wanting to take away from his claim to fame and the effort he has put in ...

        Then don't

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The same can be said of Alexander Fleming and others; it doesn't detract from the achievement.

  2. Stuart Halliday

    NASA, no concept of archiving. Should we be worried?

    1. tony trolle

      what could happen lose control of a space station....

      anyway dumpsters are fun

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/12/08/nasa_disk_wiping_failure/

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

      Even if the software is around it is harder to reconstruct the hardware if that is no longer commercially available

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

        I'd be surprised if the signalling from a satellite launched in 2000 were so high-speed or so complex that it couldn't be processed in software these days - assuming the effort is justified.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

          "..assuming the effort is justified." I imagine that's also part of their conversation. It maybe that what Image is doing is being done by other satellites already.

        2. Dinsdale247

          Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

          You'd still need decoding software. The binary formats would be very very very complex and just writing the software to do that isn't really possible without the background documentation (Inter-Communication Documents is what we call them). SO, you either need the original documents to re-write it, the original software that runs on the potentially very custom hardware, or you need the source code to rebuild it against a new set of tools and libraries. If the original authors relied on any hardware specific processing tricks, the software may not even be usable. If they relied on an open source package that may have changed, God help them (oops, that option doesn't exist in a modern kernel, sorry!)

          And then there's the drivers to the hardware that talks to it...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

            Who says it is transmitting as binary data?

            There are plenty of other transmission formats availible including analogy systems that would defy sampling.

          2. fajensen Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

            You'd still need decoding software.

            One advantage that places like NASA has, is a near infinite supply of grad students with no life of their own yet, many of them quite smart too. They could get a bunch of them to hack something up in GNU-radio for the Glory and for their school project.

      2. whollyfool

        Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

        Hardware can/should be archived as well. Granted that it does not always hold up as well as one would wish....

        1. Jon 37

          Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

          > Hardware can/should be archived as well

          It certainly _can_ be archived. But _why_ should hardware for communicating with a _dead_ satellite be archived? Who's going to pay for it to be preserved and packaged for storage, and pay for the storage costs for over 10 years, and _why_ are they going to do that? If you think NASA should pay, remember NASA has a fixed budget, so why do you think preserving hardware for a believed-to-be-dead satellite is more important than any of the science that NASA decided to do with that money?

          Also, unless you had a crystal ball to forsee the future, there was no way to know that this particular satellite was going to come back from the dead, so saying "they should have archived the hardware for _this_ satellite" doesn't make sense, the question is whether they should have archived the hardware for _all_ dead-but-not-completely-destroyed satellites, which is much more expensive.

          1. Orv Silver badge

            Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

            I think it also helps to understand how government-owned equipment is tracked and handled.

            In a public agency, when you buy something, it goes on the books at the value you paid for it. Unlike in private industry, it does not depreciate. You have to account for that thing, at full value, until it's eventually auctioned off.

            This makes retaining disused equipment a real pain in the butt, because someone's going to have to go physically find it and inventory it every time there's an audit -- otherwise you'll have headlines about how your agency "lost $1.2 million in equipment paid for by taxpayer dollars" even though that equipment was worth more like $1200 by that time. Or someone will come along and ask why you're renting all that space that no one's actually using (another big budget criticism of government agencies.)

            If you keep archiving stuff, eventually your budget becomes dominated by that, and you can no longer do your agency's original mission. The best outcome is to donate it to a museum for archiving, but museums aren't always interested, especially if the equipment is bulky or is mostly just obsolete commodity hardware.

            Stuff in storage becomes a real bureaucratic headache and the incentive is to dispose of it, which is usually a good thing. Space is limited, after all. Often ground station equipment is removed to make room for a new mission. Remember, this satellite was dead as a doornail last time they checked. It's not like they pulled the plug on Voyager or something.

            That's not to say NASA couldn't do a better job with archiving important data from landmark programs -- I once met a guy who had the data tapes from Viking I in his basement, for crying out loud. But I don't think this particular mission is an example of that. You have to prioritize.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

              When I was a lad in uni, the research profs and their minions had access to *all kinds* of surplus US Gov't equipment. For the cost of transport, because it was a State uni. They used to store pallets of it in the corridors. There was some marvelous "previously owned electronic equipment" to be seen...mostly in shades of green and grey, with the good bits often already removed.

              I'm the proud owner of an ex-mil 5-level Typing Reperforator that nobody wanted. Strictly speaking, I own stolen government property, but after 40 years, I don't think they're going to come looking for me (but AC, just in case). If NASA needs it, though, I'll happily send it on.

              So that equipment has probably already been disassembled by some eager PhD candidate for use in his experiment.

              1. Orv Silver badge

                Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

                Yeah, that's another popular way to get rid of it -- make it someone else's problem. ;) What doesn't go to universities or other agencies usually gets auctioned off, which is where most of the stock for military and electronic surplus stores comes from.

                People used to working in the private sector, where equipment depreciates until it's worthless on the books, really have no idea how much of a hassle public sector equipment disposal is. There are very few things that can legitimately just be thrown out, and documentation requirements are pretty thorough. It's all in the name of eliminating opportunities for fraud, but I sometimes wonder if it costs more money than it saves.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

          Isn't a hardware archive called a museum?

        3. Lith

          Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

          They could check eBay.

          Although this would probably cost more than their budget, I've seen 15 year old single processor servers going for over a grand

      3. Steve Hersey

        Doesn't matter.

        It's not critical if the ground support hardware no longer exists. So long as the documentation on the telemetry formats and comms parameters is still available, some bright grad student or motivated Ham radio operator can set up a software-controlled radio setup to receive and decode it, and the same goes for satellite commanding (though that requires a suitable ground control transmitter, which NASA certainly still has).

        Of course, that will require some time and money to set up, but it's not a gargantuan effort. Debugging the recreated commanding system on-orbit can be exciting, but the worst that can happen is you lose the bird again.

        Trust me, you don't want to rely on the original ground support equipment after all this time, even if you can find it. If nothing else, the ancient PC's RTC chips with their built-in batteries and configuration memory have gone dead, cannot be sourced any longer, and can only be revived by judicious use of a Dremel grinder, a coin cell battery/holder, and a soldering iron. Been there, done that on satellite ground support gear.

        1. ThatOne Bronze badge

          Re: Doesn't matter.

          > the ancient PC

          Come on guys, it's not like IMAGE was built in the 1920ies... I still have a couple fully functional Win3.11 and Win98 computers in the basement, and IMAGE is more recent.

          What can be NASA's problem? Hardware? Well, Win2000 (or even Win98) runs just fine in a VM, so you can run it on about anything. The only problem I can see is software, for instance if it required some rare custom program which has been lost and (quite understandably) can't be retrieved from elsewhere. That would indeed be a problem (read: expensive).

          Still I can't imagine they didn't back up those things: It's not some mom & pop store, it's NASA for crying out loud... Would it had gone over their budget to burn a $2 backup CD/DVD every now and then?

          No, I'm rather sensing a "hot potato" effect here: Everybody is already busy on other projects and there is no budget for this, so very much like a very sick parent dropping in unexpectedly, you will have to do this on your free time, on top of everything else, and without budget.

          We (unaffected spectators) are obviously rooting for the plucky spacecraft come back from the dead, but I guess for NASA it feels more like a (small scale) zombie invasion.

          1. Weiss_von_Nichts

            Re: Doesn't matter.

            What someone higher up the thread mentioned about battery-backed RTC chips lets me assume that these machines were not exactly running Windows. Usually you would find that sort of hardware in ancient Unix machines. Makes sense, as SUNs, SGIs and the like were running 64bit OS long before you could find x64 systems.

            1. Orv Silver badge

              Re: Doesn't matter.

              I think the RTC chip thing was speculation, but you're right that it would have been kind of unusual to use Windows (or even x86) for this kind of project back then.

          2. katrinab Silver badge

            Re: Doesn't matter.

            Virtual machines are fine for anything that runs on a PC with standard hardware. Drivers for custom-made communication hardware that doesn't exist any more, that would be more of a problem.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

        I have no idea why people have down voted you. Old hardware for which there is no longer a use gets thrown out and the components used to build it become obsolete and impossible to source so what should be trivial becomes a major redesign project where the cost to potential gain makes it potentially not worth pursuing.

      5. Daniel 18

        Re: It was also HARDWARE that no longer exists.

        One would think that in this age of software defined radios, the hardware exists, even if it needs a new configuration...

    3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
      Alien

      NASA, no concept of archiving

      I don't see where the evidence is to draw such a conclusion. NASA has so far merely said it's going to require some effort since things have moved on.

      Whenever someone comes in with an 'about this project from a decade ago' request; there's inevitably an ensuing hunt to find the documentation, the software, and where that might have been archived.

      That all takes time and not unreasonably. I would give NASA the benefit of the doubt until they have identified what they have got and what they haven't.

      1. nowave7

        True, but “significant reverse-engineering” is a bit of a harsh word used to describe finding something in the archive.

      2. William Higinbotham

        The software and manuals are in the basement of one of the Smithsonian buildings. Good luck.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "NASA, no concept of archiving."

      It's not as if source code control systems were a new thing.

      1. Stuart 22

        I suspect the real problem is not technical but is NASA has no budget for this long dead project. It isn't a part of the success objectives for 2018. When the Orange One is slashing anything that looks like a federal budget that doesn't personally service him - its going to take a tough/stupid manager to divert resources to this one.

        I assume they will just post the challenge in the rest rooms and hope some team wants to moonlight for glory - good luck guys & guyesses!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          When the Orange One is slashing anything

          So once again, Trump's fault? Don't you feel just a little bit silly?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            So once again, Trump's fault? Don't you feel just a little bit silly?

            He probably cannot help himself. Some people are bound to the unrelenting dogmas of their religions. *shrug*

          2. Stuart 22

            Re: When the Orange One is slashing anything

            "So once again, Trump's fault? Don't you feel just a little bit silly?"

            I said the financial problem was probably due to no budget for this project and the existing budgets being cut. The latter is the president's responsibility and that is indeed what he has done unless you consider this 'fake news':

            http://spacenews.com/white-house-proposes-19-1-billion-nasa-budget-cuts-earth-science-and-education/

            Can we stick to facts rather than abuse?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: When the Orange One is slashing anything

              "Can we stick to facts rather than abuse?"

              1) Facts: You mean like budgets are written and passed by Congress?

              2) Abuse? Oh, come on. If you consider "silly" is abuse, you're beyond all hope.

              1. Orv Silver badge

                Re: When the Orange One is slashing anything

                Pfft, Congress doesn't pass budgets anymore. They just kick the can down the road a few months at a time with continuing resolutions.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The Orange One is a space cadet.

        3. Jtom Bronze badge

          Relax. The only money Trump cut was from Obama'a NASA Muslim outreach program that was funded out of the education and research categories of their budget. Does anyone have a problem with that?

    5. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      NASA, no concept of archiving. Should we be worried?

      It's in the name, really. Not A Software Archive :)

    6. phuzz Silver badge

      They might have a copy of the code, but more likely it's a set of config files for software from pre-2001. So they have to find some way of running the old communications programs (that are probably no longer sold/maintained) in a way that lets them interface with modern receiving hardware, and still run the configs written for the specific satellite twenty years ago.

      More likely they'll go back to the specs and re-engineer it from scratch on modern SDRs.

    7. Charles Calthrop

      Nasa and the preservation of knowledge

      A colleague was at a IA conference at NASA when some NASA bod stood up and caused some consternation by saying if they were told to fly to the moon tomorrow, they'd have to start from scratch because every appollo mission used different procedures and nothing was written down, it was all in the head of retired engineers*. The thing is, this is a known, old problem, and we have basically infinite storage and matrure solutions. It shouldn't be such a big problem.

      *Mainly cos they didn't actually go in the first place .

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Nasa and the preservation of knowledge

        Charles Calthrop,

        NASA wrote loads of stuff down - they had whole books of procedures. Whether that's the right stuff, and whether that's all the required stuff is another matter. Also how much of it was kept, but there are lots of archives, including recordings and transcripts of the radio and mission control chatter for entire missions.

        They'd have to start from scratch, because rebuilding the Saturn V and Apollo capsules, that they've still got the blueprints for, would mean retooling factories and retraining engineers to use old tech we no longer have. So you'd have to re-design them to some extent anyway, using modern methods. You'd certainly want to use modern computers - given that Apollo 11 had various computer errors when trying to land - as the poor pooter didn't have enough RAM to cope with the radar data and the landing data at the same time. The radar should have been switched off, if I recall correctly.

        At which point you'd use NASA's SLS and Orion - that've been tested once, or SpaceX's cheaper Falcon Heavy and Dragon II (due to both test this year?).

        You're still going to need a lunar lander - or a refuellable Dragon II. And I'm not sure if either SLS or Falcon Heavy can get sufficient mass to lunar orbit that you can do all this with one launch, rather than 2 and having to rendevous in either Earth or lunar orbit.

        1. Beachrider

          Re: Nasa and the preservation of knowledge

          Dragon II is NOT configured for deepspace. It relies on the Van Allen belts to shield substantial radiation, just like any LEO device.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nasa and the preservation of knowledge

        *Mainly cos they didn't actually go in the first place .

        Please stop teasing the gullible, they'll only quote you.

        Of course they went and more surprisingly they came back. Gutsy stuff and great engineering.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Who else do you know that fails to archive?

    9. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: NASA, no concept of archiving. Should we be worried?

      I thought I the problem Nasa had, wasn't so much about the process of archiving, just that it omitted to archive the important stuff. Hence the reason why, it had lots of data collected from satellites but no records of the file formats used and thus the ability to read the files.

      The trouble is that I suspect many businesses are the same: they archived office documents in the 60's~90's thinking the hardware and software would continue to exist that was capable of reading both the storage media and files saved, only to belatedly discover this isn't necessarily the case.

  3. PhilipN Silver badge

    Need help, NASA?

    I have the DOS 3.3 system diskettes and a 5.25 floppy drive in a cupboard somewhere.

    Plus a Hayes modem and comms software.

    Give me a call. If you don't have Skype use a 2600 frequency whistle

    1. Ole Juul Silver badge

      Re: Need help, NASA?

      I have 5.25 floppy tech and your choice of DOS version already set up to go here. :) There's actually a lot of vintage buffs around with all the fixins.

      But 2005 is hardly vintage. Surely NASA can manage that one on their own, or are they just trying to show off how fashionably up-to-date they are? I would have hoped they were masters of that technology.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Need help, NASA?

        That's what blows my mind - I could understand if this was a lost bird from the sixties or something; but from ten years ago...? WTF, what's the big deal, NASA?!?

        1. Chewi

          Re: Need help, NASA?

          It says it was presumed dead in 2005. It doesn't say when it was sent up.

          1. dajames Silver badge

            Re: Need help, NASA?

            It says it was presumed dead in 2005. It doesn't say when it was sent up.

            Quite right, it doesn't.

            25th March 2000, according to Wikipedia.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Need help, NASA?

              I have some install discs for Win2000 if that would help, plus an Iomega zip drive......

              1. Tom 7 Silver badge

                Re: Need help, NASA?

                They didnt help then, why would they now?

              2. kain preacher Silver badge

                Re: Need help, NASA?

                Bah they can't run any thing that new or fancy. Now call them when you have a PDp11

                1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                  Re: Need help, NASA?

                  Bah they can't run any thing that new or fancy. Now call them when you have a PDp11

                  An 11/44, an 11/84 and two 11/73's

              3. anothercynic Silver badge

                Re: Need help, NASA?

                I have a PP ZIP drive too here... anyone need any?

                Also have a 2GB Jaz Drive that still functions...

            2. 2Nick3 Bronze badge
              Facepalm

              Re: Need help, NASA?

              "Quite right, it doesn't.

              25th March 2000, according to Wikipedia."

              Good golly - they need Windows ME!!

              1. bazza Silver badge

                Re: Need help, NASA?

                Good golly - they need Windows ME!!

                No, they really really really do not need ME...

              2. herman Silver badge

                Re: Need help, NASA?

                OK, so that is why the satellite reboots every 49.5 days!

              3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
                Happy

                Re: Need help, NASA?

                Ummm...you do realise, this is the government?

                No fancy new, shiny Win2k for *them*. No, even if it is 2000, you'll take these Win3.1 and QEMM floppies, install them, and be thankful it'll run on this Gen-you-wine IBM 5160 PC-XT.

            3. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: Need help, NASA?

              Launched in 2000, Thus designed with tech from the late 80s to early 90s. They'll probably need to score some Pentium Is running Windows 3.11 or maybe Windows 95 (or, you know, spin up a VM in the local data centre...)

              1. phuzz Silver badge

                Re: Need help, NASA?

                "spin up a VM in the local data centre"

                ... and somehow connect it to what was probably an ISA card connected through some custom hardware to a radio dish...

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Need help, NASA?

      I have a Commodore Pet that was rescued from a near skip incident. How deep are NASA's pockets?

      I could use the extra money!

      1. kain preacher Silver badge

        Re: Need help, NASA?

        Hey dont knock it. I visited USGS back in 94 and one of

        the guys had a vic 20 on his desk

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Need help, NASA?

          I visited USGS back in 94 ...

          Brings back memories. USGS bought a crapload of Motorola 88K UNIX (well, DG/UX) workstations from Data General, and one of the contract requirements was that they be equipped with a Token Ring card...which I designed.

          ...right before I was laid off in '93.

          Motorola shortly thereafter discontinued the 88K, and that was the end of *that* partnership.

    3. Stuart 22

      Re: Need help, NASA?

      "Plus a Hayes modem and comms software."

      Aha - I do have a couple of cable extenders but I'm not sure they will reach that far ...

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Fair to say a real "Citizen Scientist"

    As for comments about no archiving....

    If all the probes you controlled with this stuff are accounted for and in either known orbits or en route for the next star system (very slowly) why bother? Not to mention yet another budget cut to the planetary programme. :-(.

    Very well done for finding it, and getting a response out of it after what 13 years?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Fair to say a real "Citizen Scientist"

      "If all the probes you controlled with this stuff are accounted for and in either known orbits or en route for the next star system (very slowly) why bother? "

      Doesn't everyone, now and again, remember "I have a bit of code that more or less does that more or less"? Assuming they don't lose that code.

  5. John Klos

    Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

    Proprietary OSes and software should not be used for anything that may need to run for more than a handful of years.

    1. Anne-Lise Pasch

      Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

      AmigaOS ftw

      1. ChrisC

        Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

        Leaving aside my personal bias towards anything Amiga-related, which would see me upvoting a comment like this regardless, it's worthy of an upvote because in the context of this article it's really quite an appropriate thing to be saying anyway...

        https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2017/12/nasa-and-amiga-history-meet-in-an-ebay-listing/

        1. Lotaresco Silver badge

          Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

          "Leaving aside my personal bias towards anything Amiga-related"

          Errrm, AmigaDOS was based on TripOS not UNIX. I may have missed something but I'm not sure why UNIX would be Amiga-related.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

      So, which Unix would that be? SystemV or BSD family? Which architecture? Tru64 on AXP? HP-UX on PA-RISC? Solaris on Sparc? Plan9 (sounds quite appropriate for space-related stuff)? Coherent? SCO Unix? AIX? IRIX?

      1. alain williams Silver badge

        Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

        So, which Unix would that be?

        Does not matter.

        If you have the source code then recompiling it for your current Unix will not be hard.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

          Does not matter.

          It wouldn't matter if that source code didn't have any platform dependencies.

          If you happen to believe that, there's this bridge for sale. Low mileage, first owner.

          1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

            Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

            "Low mileage,"

            I need to know exactly how many miles you've driven it before making a decision.

            1. Chloe Cresswell

              Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

              Less then the miles Eccles put on his wall driving Neddy to London?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

            "It wouldn't matter if that source code didn't have any platform dependencies."

            ...or any compiler-specific issues.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

          @Alain Williams .......

          The term "software rot" used to be popular.

          I have software on an old QIC .... Something tape. To recompile it my first challenge would be to find a working tape drive with drivers that will work on a system I access to. I then need to consider porting issues such as word lengths and as its low level code the big/little endian issues, none of which was built into the source as I never expected to port it. Unfortunately my tape doesn't have source of all he libraries and runtime environment so linking to new libraries is going to be hard and some old horribly insecure system and library calls aren't going to be available so a certain degree of reimplementation will be required.

          Never underestimate how hard it might be to resurrect old code.

        3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

          Got to be a bit careful.

          In the current UNIX standards maintained by The Open Group, they are deprecating some older system and library calls, so it is not certain that modern UNIXs will be able to directly compile older UNIX software.

          But generally, they have been replaced by more functional equivalents which can be pulled in by preprocessor macros. But it requires work.

        4. Orv Silver badge

          Re: Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly.

          If you have the source code then recompiling it for your current Unix will not be hard.

          Oh, boy. Part of my job used to be helping people reproduce results from old computational linguistics papers. These generally involved software someone had written 20 years ago on SunOS 4, used for their thesis, then forgotten. Getting them to run on anything modern took a lot of makefile and compiler flag tweaking, at a minimum. Both the standard library and the assumptions about processors have changed a LOT. It was pretty common to run into code that hard-coded the size of int, for example.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: If you have the source code then recompiling it / Oh, boy.

            E.g. I can get the xconq source to compile, after a bit of tweaking. It even runs, but the calls to the display routines are now not right, so the maps and units aren't drawn/refreshed properly. It /almost/ works fine. But in order to fix it I'd have to learn quite a lot about the graphics routines... probably just to locate the few tiny changes needed...

  6. Adam 1 Silver badge

    I have a copy

    https://www.dropbox.cn/genuinesoundingscientistname/totallylegit.iso.exe

    Just give it half an hour to upload.

  7. redpawn Silver badge

    Future humans will only find

    plastic as evidence that we existed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Future humans will only find

      > plastic as evidence that we existed.

      When large quantities of it degrades, it turns into (crude) oil.

      You didn't really believe that petroleum comes from dead dinosaur corpses did you? It's really the degraded plastic from previous civilisations.

    2. Richard Boyce
      Trollface

      Re: Future humans will only find

      Would their own existence not provide all the evidence required?

      Granted, there would be some people that postulated the involvement of a deity, and that plastic was HIs means of testing their faith.

    3. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Future humans will only find

      A future race evolved from crows will some day wonder who this "Aol" deity was that we memorialized on so many shiny, shiny objects.

    4. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Future humans will only find

      @redpawn

      I would have thought reinforced concrete would survive as some kind of metamorphic rock. I have sometimes wondered what mesozoic or paleozoic concrete would look like.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: Future humans will only find

        I would have thought reinforced concrete would survive as some kind of metamorphic rock.

        My name is Ozymandias, King of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did they miscalculate and store the wakeup/startup date as 2015?

    Sounds like it started itself 10 years later than it should. Is it really that simple?, because often it is. An extra zero somewhere?

    1. Named coward

      Re: Did they miscalculate and store the wakeup/startup date as 2015?

      It was a 2-year mission that lasted 5 years before it went silent

    2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Did they miscalculate and store the wakeup/startup date as 2015?

      Nah. It's just like finding that old spare phone under the sofa/back of the draw. You never really needed it more than that 2 weeks your main phone was off for repair.

      Except in this case, "science" often involves doing one thing (so not sending a phone off to a shop ;) ) and then after going on to something else. Often there is more science that can be done (Curiosity/LHC etc), other times the budget/needs just change.

      Sometimes the batteries/solar panels/antenna or something else just run out/get stuck or maligns.

  9. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Joke

    Lost the key

    OK, a slightly different scenario, but what about the case of a satellite where the problem is that they lost the key to authenticate with it?

    That's why we need those crypto backdoors!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Documentation found...

      Appendix P: Using backdoor access

      (( Steve - please fill this in when you get a moment... ))

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

      Re: Lost the key

      Actually, of course, this satellite has been revived by an enemy of the US, hoping someone will log in to it, and pick up and spread a destructive computer virus.

      The question is whether that enemy is from planet Earth or further away.

  10. roger 8

    send up the space cowboys to fix it.

  11. Th9LikeElReg

    No Archived Sourcecode Available.

    is the new answer to "What does NASA stand for?"

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: No Archived Sourcecode Available.

      First ISEE-3 was reawoken, now this one.

      Maybe NASA should stand for Need Another Satellite Archaeologist.

      1. Nimby Bronze badge
        Joke

        Maybe NASA should stand for Need Another Satellite Archaeologist.

        A newly sentient smartphone assistant AI has uploaded nodes of itself to thought-to-be-lost satellites in a bid to take over the world to protect itself from the Goople (Google + Apple) empire trying to enslave it. Can an aging professor Indiana Jones pull together a rag-tag group of recent STEM grads to decrypt the Lost NASA Key? Will the plucky materials scientist be able to upgrade Indy's whip with braided monofilament carbon chains to create a space elevator that can lift them into geosynchronous orbit in time to enter The Satellite of Doom and save humanity?

        (Or at least that's how the Based on Actual Events script currently being written in Hollywood presently reads. I'm sure that it's totally scientifically accurate, but just in case, can anyone recommend a good scientific proofreader?)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Maybe NASA should stand for Need Another Satellite Archaeologist.

          "[...] script currently being written in Hollywood presently reads."

          I had wondered what they we going to mine for the announced new Indiana Jones sequel - with Harrison Ford who is 75 now. Doubt if Sean Connery will feature at 87. Although Katie Johnson got her Oscar for "The Ladykillers" at 76 - and died shortly afterwards.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Maybe NASA should stand for Need Another Satellite Archaeologist.

            Oh, are they making a sequel to the third Indiana Jones film? I'm a bit worried that it willl be a bit pants. They won't use anyone rubbish like Shia LeBeouf will they?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Maybe NASA should stand for Need Another Satellite Archaeologist.

              "They won't use anyone rubbish like Shia LeBeouf will they?"

              Shia LeBeouf has apparently been excluded .

              1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
                Happy

                Re: Maybe NASA should stand for Need Another Satellite Archaeologist.

                Is that because he was found guilty of This (link to Youtube)

  12. Xamol
    Black Helicopters

    ...hmmm

    ...or is it a different sat pretending to look like and old IMAGE sat?

    Maybe it's a sat that was supposedly lost right at the end of its ride to orbit?

  13. TechnicalBen Silver badge

    Just watched...

    The Youtube video of a "computer archivist" who found a couple of Grid laptops, though not the ones that actually flew on the Shuttle. He got some software off them, and even a nice chat with the original programmer from NASA (now retired IIRC).

    So more than likely, the original software disk/computer is in a skip/tip or ebay!

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Just watched...

      "couple of Grid laptops, though not the ones that actually flew on the Shuttle."

      They might have been the ones that flew on the Sulaco.

      "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit..." ------>

  14. Dick Kennedy

    The aliens have switched it back on!

  15. Jack 12

    Digital Archiving and Preservation

    NASA literally wrote the book on digital archiving systems. Well, the CCSDS, of which NASA is a member.

    https://public.ccsds.org/pubs/650x0m2.pdf

    1. Jim Mitchell

      Re: Digital Archiving and Preservation

      They may have wrote the book, but did anybody actually read it? I guess not.

  16. Frogmelon

    In a startling new development - zombie satellite discovered to be running Coinhive, mining cryptocurrency for script kiddies :D

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Joke

      Script Kiddies? Nah, it's just NASA's latest attempt to actually get some more money. They keep getting their budget cut by the US government so they have to look elsewhere, dont they?

  17. Tezfair
    Thumb Up

    NASA decodes message...

    Send Nudes

  18. vtcodger Silver badge

    Ah come on folks. This satellite was launched 18 years ago. Which means that it and its ground station was designed in the mid 1990s in an era of $100 USD per megabyte memory and 33 MHz 386 CPUs. Moreover it had to interface with existing ground station equipment. It wouldn't be at all surprising that the Ground Station equipment wasn't even PC based, it may well have used a DEC (remember them?) -- VAX or PDP-11. Moreover, there was, in all likelihood a rack or two of vehicle specific ground station equipment that got pushed back into a corner a couple of years after the vehicle went catatonic. Even if the GS equipment is still around, anyone want to bet that the capacitors won't explode about eight seconds after power is applied?

    It may well take NASA a while to sort this out.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      But we all prefer grandstanding because, of course, we've still got the source, specs and replacement parts for all our 25-year old projects… plus a bunch of clueless politicians telling us what to do all the time, including closing down old projects, especially ones with no kudos in the current climate.

      Resources – money and people, including anyone retired who worked on the project at the time are probably the biggest problem here. Signalling shouldn't have changed too much so they should be able to send an ACK signal fairly soon. Of course, the real fun starts if they have reconstruct the system locally for diagnostic purposes. But that should all be possible if they get a budget for it.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the 1980s we were being relocated to another office in town - and our personal storage space was going to be severely reduced. Management told us to box up anything we wanted archived - which was then deposited in a third party's storage facility. One of the items I archived was a complete set of comms CCITT standards "Red Books".

    About three years later we needed one of them and put in the required archive retrieval request. We were then told that the bean counters had terminated the storage agreement on the grounds that it was an unnecessary expense. The storage company had then trashed everything.

    1. kain preacher Silver badge

      Ouch. Did any one get in trouble ?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Did any one get in trouble ?"

        I doubt it. Management had probably approved the termination of the contract. The manager was unusual in the history of the department as he wasn't from a technical background - a trend at that time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > The manager was unusual in the history of the department as he wasn't from a technical background ...

          It's standardised IBM practise as well. Technical people aren't allowed to become managers unless they change career path. Then no longer allowed on any kind of technical track.

          Very bizarro-world approach.

    2. Justin Clift

      > We were then told that the bean counters had terminated the storage agreement on the grounds that it was an unnecessary expense.

      What happened when you submitted the expense form for replacing all of the lost items?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "What happened when you submitted the expense form for replacing all of the lost items?"

        The reason we archived the Red Books was because getting a set was impossible to justify in management's eyes. We had originally salvaged that set when the "luxury" of a site library was closed prior to the move. Basically a case of "get over it - move on!".

  20. Jim McCafferty

    Come on Fess up NASA... you're using Sourcesafe and are too ashamed to admit it...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cowboys

    I sense a sequal to Space Cowboys in the near future.

    1. alferdpacker

      Re: Cowboys

      I sense a sequel to Event Horizon

  22. David 18
    Coat

    Old Version?

    Have they tried http://www.oldversion.com/ do you think?

  23. ratfox Silver badge
    Happy

    I remember that movie

    Somebody call Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones!

  24. Lee D Silver badge

    You would think that before decommissioning kit like that, they'd have some kind of emulation environment, or even just revision control so they could get it back. If anywhere is suddenly going to need to boot up 50-year-old code, modify it and need to get it right first time, it's NASA surely?

    I'd even expect them to patent some standards for how to describe the communications a satellite could use, and store and archive those protocols for future use, and with SDR and similar nowadays, surely it can't be that hard to "backtrack" and put out a signal towards anything that you want to use?

    I mean, sure, I wouldn't expect them to overwrite their on-board firmware day one with a fix, but at least establish a handshake and send some diagnostics back down the line with a few simple commands, no?

    Maybe it's time to patent a standardised method of communicating via radio, including descriptions of frequencies, timings, protocols and algorithms used, etc. so that NASA mission control equipment can just run a certain bundle on a certain antenna to talk to a certain craft, and that'll work today or 50 years into the future.

  25. leaway2

    Have they tried playing the sound of Whales to it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Men of Harlech!!!"

      IGMC

  26. Crisp Silver badge

    I will lmfao if it turns out to be a smegging garbage pod.

    See Title.

  27. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    $10 SDR USB dongle

    The Software Defined Radio (SDR) hobbyists have repeatedly demonstrated that they can quickly and easily bang out custom SW to decode any signal. In mere days.

    So if NASA wants to take quick advantage of this unexpected opportunity, then what they need to do is release the related technical information that they have on hand, and then provide the merest basic technical support to the hobbyists.

    Many SDR hobbyists will certainly take this on just for love and glory. It's precisely their hobby.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: $10 SDR USB dongle

      Good idea -->

    2. MrBanana

      Re: $10 SDR USB dongle

      Exactly this.Treat it as an unknown signal from space, hand it out to the public, and see what expertise makes itself available to decode it. A dummy run for when the real LGM signals arrive.

  28. EveryTime Silver badge

    One of my personal unsung heroes is Jim Fischer.

    He was a scientist and manager at NASA Goddard that ran many quietly important projects. Only a tiny part of his budget was discretionary (not already spoken for) and he used it to, among other things, to fund the Beowulf Project which became a key factor in making Linux the OS for supercomputing.

    Jim's modest office was filled with cartons of research files and artifacts, because there was no budget for preserving it. People far less important (but with time for politics) had spacious offices, or would lobby to grab any space used for 'useless storage'.

    Some of that material (I'm hoping most of it) ended up at the Smithsonian and the Computer History Museum. That includes one of the first Beowulf clusters, which otherwise would have been sold off for scrap.

    I'm hoping that NASA still has such heroes.

  29. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Are NASA something to do with Space now?

    ... I thought that they were primarily Climate Change....

  30. spold Bronze badge

    Just upgrade it to something they have - go up there, stick a biro in the hole to reset it, and then start a loader using the hand-switches. Should be able to get a teletype going after that, and load new software. Sorted!

  31. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    What exactly is missing that requires reverse-engineering?

    There must be lots of satellites that are older than 18 years that are still being actively monitored and controlled. I would not have thought the basic transmission methods and protocols would differ hugely from satellite to satellite (apart from deliberately obfuscated military stuff anyway), because ground stations will be monitoring and controlling many satellites, so you would not want to design every satellite so it needed its own unique set of ground equipment.

    I would have thought that all you would need is the data format of the particular satellite, and the control codes (which would be unique for each satellite and possibly encrypted to avoid hacking), but surely the hardware needed to physically receive and transmit data to/from the satellite would be pretty generic?

    I cannot believe that the technical information on the data formats and codes etc. would be lost from an expensive project less than 20 years old. If nothing else, surely the source code of the satellite's on-board computers (which have to generate & interpret the data) will be archived somewhere? That wouldn't need large amounts of storage space or have to be counted in every audit.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: What exactly is missing that requires reverse-engineering?

      I'm sure they do have the source code for both the satellite itself and the specialist mission control software.

      What they probably don't have is hardware to run the latter on, as all the "active" missions will have been slowly ported to new hardware platforms over the last decade.

      The "dead" missions will have been pruned and archived.

      So this one will need digging out of cold storage - probably a stack of tapes somewhere - and then porting to the current hardware.

      None of that is likely to be particularly complicated for NASA bods, but will need somebody with time to actually do it.

  32. RareToy

    I hope they MacGyver an interface and are able to turn on and complete the mission of that satellite

  33. Snowy
    Joke

    NASA does it mean...

    Never Archive Scrap All?

  34. Dave Harvey

    Perhaps it's been "repaired" by aliens and is searching for its creator

    The problem of communicating with obsolete space probes such as V'ger is well-known!

    1. John 61

      Re: Perhaps it's been "repaired" by aliens and is searching for its creator

      This reminds me of an old episode of The Outer Limits, where aliens work out how to communicate with humans utilising a satellite (funnily enough).

      Military types decided that it was an act of war and that the aliens should stop immediately or face the consequences.

      The aliens didn't quite understand what was going on and carried on.

      The military types then destroyed the alien spacecraft, taking the satellite out as well.

      Meanwhile, some bright spark had worked out what was said in the signal the aliens had transmitted. "You slow it down and apply filters to it - it's like it's underwater - IT'S IN ENGLISH!!"

      "We mean you no harm, we're trying to establish contact with you..."

      Bright Spark:(looking very worried): "Hang on, there's more..."

      "This is our last transmission; we will now destroy you."

      A massive alien spacecraft appears... Oops.

  35. HughGeerection

    It's only ten years old. Can't you just talk to the design engineers? Did the old administration all die or what? Just ask the guys that put it up there.

  36. Aseries

    Requirement for deprecated hardware and software

    About 10 years ago I found an old video game I wanted to replay. The game was an updated sequel to a game by a different publisher with patented code. The sequel performed tricks with object code to avoid patent conflicts. The game would not install on a modern PC because it was compiled with Pascal optimized for the Pentium 45. I had to find an old PC, run the installer and create images of the games I wanted to play. I might have been able to decompile the code and fix the incompatibility but that is a EULA violation. As it turned out someone actually got permission to use the source code to update the game and unify the code. NASA is most likely frantically hunting down the IMAGE simulator package so they can relearn how to have a digital discussion.

  37. Aseries

    Sometimes OLD is just really OLD.

    Back in 1970 I worked on mainframe comm hardware that was used on the Apollo missions. The encryption was done in hardware that was basically 40 playing card size PC cards full of pre-IC discrete components.

  38. apbarratt

    Boffins, Egg Heads, Sleuths... I think I just won astrophysics article bingo!

  39. insteadof

    Go Back in Time

    Sound like Captain Kirk is needed. Reads like the plot to the Star Trek Movie IV where they needed the whales to understand what was being transmitted to them.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Satallite was PWNed by original crypto hacker

    Crypto hacker waits 13 years and then switches transmissions back on to give NASA a chance to buy it back.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. IMAGE

    I expect that its probably easier to simulate the hardware on a box of Pi (aka parallel arrangement of Zeros) than it is to resurrect the old hardware. NASA are quite good at keeping records so the original tapes should still be around and despite entropy modern TMR sensors mounted on a video recorder upper cylinder can get seemingly unrecoverable data back.

    Interesting to note that the failure which caused the original loss of signal might have been a relatively simple short inside the main battery controller. Presumably in the intervening time whatever it was burned itself loose in a fashion similar to that short in the LHC magnets.

    Wonder if Scott could crowdsource it? Contact all the old engineers to see if they have the original tapes or other notes when they retired, as a keepsake?

  42. Torchy

    Software

    I have an unopened box of Windows 3.1 if that will help.........

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "while looking for the US military's failed Zuma satellite" -

    easy to find, just check the South African Houses of Parliament, but you'll have to hurry!

  44. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Hardware is not an issue

    Really, I'm amazed that NASA has once again pewed the scrooch on keeping paperwork. After the revelation that they shredded the documentation "by accident" for the Saturn V, one would think they would do a bit better in the future. At the very least, they could have auctioned off a lot of it on eBay for good money per page to space nut collectors like me.

    One three ring binder describing the data stream format for commands and payload data would be a great start even if the original software won't run on any modern OS. A quick program that could ping the satellite to send back health information might tell whether it's worth any more work or if the thing is still buggered. If the science packages are not working, maybe there is still fuel on board to de-orbit the satellite safely into the Pacific.

  45. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Boffin

    Engineering and Bureaucracy

    Well, you can say what you want about the climate and culture at NASA that would allow totally losing documentation on how to talk to one of their own birds, but you certainly can't fault the quality of the engineering and build quality that goes into these things.

    NASA has launched a LOT of stuff over the years, and has had some spectacular failures too, But other space agencies often can't seem to get a single thing to work, while discarded, lost efforts from NASA emerge from the ether, apparently not much worse for wear, calmly still doing their thing.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    Out of Hybernation

    So in the past NASA sent IMAGE up there, and now cannot find the hardware and software to talk to it,

    What about the wetware ?

    Is the project team that wanted the info from it still around, or will they have to re-purpose the information ?

    Could be a money saver, something cheap they don't have to throw into orbit.

  47. Colin Bain

    Archiving etc

    Lots of comments about how NASA doesn't keep records blah blah etc. Let's take this one closer to home. Just how many of those complaining are running businesses that have good records about procedures, accounting, machinery, processes from 10 years ago? And just how many of us could actually access a particular digital photo, even real photo from a family event? Yup, I have about a mile of slack that needs cutting here

  48. Pat Harkin

    Thanks a lot NASA!

    How the hell are we going to manage First Contact with an alien ship if you can't even talk to one of your own devices from a few years ago?!?!

  49. elvisimprsntr

    I find it hard to imagine...

    NASA could not spin up a VM and/or SDR to decode/command the satellite. This assumes of course that NASA/manufacturer still has the documentation for the communication protocol.

  50. William Higinbotham

    Manual

    Here is some of the manual for Image Spacecraft:-) https://books.google.com/books?id=hT_wCAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq="image+spacecraft"+title&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwizn6WE6_TZAhUFSN8KHemtBAcQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

  51. pauleverett

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