back to article NASA's zombie IMAGE satellite is powered up and working quite nicely

NASA has updated the status of its once-was-lost, now-is-found IMAGE satellite and revealed the bird's power supplies are operational. The space agency will therefore attempt to revive the mission – if it can find money to fund the effort. As The Register previously reported, IMAGE (the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahh...the old 'drain the power...

    ...to turn it off and on again' fix.

    Reboot FTW

    1. malle-herbert Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Ahh...the old 'drain the power...

      Well... it IS a bit hard to get all the way up there to switch it off and on manually...

      1. seven of five

        Re: Ahh...the old 'drain the power...

        Actually, it is quite easy to get something up there and give the switch a good, percussive maintenance. The really hard part is having the sat in one piece afterwards.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      WTF

      Why wouldn't they build some sort of deadman switch in the satellite using a simple microcontroller such that if it didn't receive a signal from the ground over a certain period of time, or didn't see any evidence that the CPU was running, or other 'catastrophic' conditions that it would reset the power itself?

      1. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: WTF

        They have, but in space things can fail in weird ways. In fact since it came online again, it most likely rebooted many times just because of that.

      2. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: "Why wouldn't they build some sort of deadman switch"

        The Halting Problem would like a word with you after class.

        1. tfb Silver badge

          Re: "Why wouldn't they build some sort of deadman switch"

          If the software running on the spacecraft's main system suffers from halting problems then you've already lost: you don't write programs to run on spacecraft which try to solve problems which only may have answers. So a watchdog reset is perfectly straightforward: 'if watchdog reset is enabled, and if the main CPU has not reset its timer in n seconds or nothing has been heard from the ground in m seconds, power cycle the system'. I'm sure spacecraft have such things.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Why wouldn't they build some sort of deadman switch"

            Most of the have that. And a secondary reboot system too.

        2. Chris Hance

          @TechnicalBen Re: "Why wouldn't they build some sort of deadman switch"

          Ok, now I just need to write a program to tell me whether class ever ends.

      3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: WTF

        "...some sort of deadman switch..."

        The phrase you're searching for is "Watchdog Timer".

        An overly-simple example is a 555 timer chip, where the properly functioning software gives it a periodic pulse to prevent the timer chip from resetting the CPU. If the software falls over, then the CPU is (hardware) reset / rebooted. In the real world, there are such hardware watchdog timers built-into many CPUs. Or built-into a related support IC.

        Another related phrase is "Safe Mode".

      4. Electricity_Guy

        Re: WTF

        Maybe because it's something else that might fail in the wrong position?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ahh...the old 'drain the power...

      I was actually told that a couple of month ago at an Airport...

      "We're sorry for the delay, there is minor fault on the aircraft, engineers are going to cycle the system to try to get it cleared."

      Nice attempt at cover up, but I can recognise and "off and on again" at 300 yards.

      Sometimes I really wish I wasn't a techie about to get on a plane after hearing that.

      (Just for clarity, I didn't die).

      1. defiler Silver badge

        Re: Ahh...the old 'drain the power...

        Just for clarity, I didn't die

        Glad you cleared that up. The suspense was overwhelming!

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Ahh...the old 'drain the power...

          "The suspense was overwhelming!"

          Didn't you see "Ghost"...? He might still be able to type either way, so it's good to clear up any confusion!

      2. Esme

        Re: Ahh...the old 'drain the power...

        @AC - it's OK, we know what to do with non-functional users around here..

        FZZZTTTACKKK!

        -one user-rebooted.

        Cattle-prods, the answer to so many of life's little problems...

  2. Thoguht Silver badge
    Alien

    Ooooops, sorry!

    What do you mean, "we broke something when we came out of warp"? Nothing should be here according to our info. What??? It looks like something made by another lifeform? Oh sh*t, now that's torn it, they'll be docking another of my tentacles if anyone finds out. Tell you what, let's take it with us, get it fixed and then put it back in the same place next time we're around these parts.

    Sorted!

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Ooooops, sorry!

      Its a Mysteron Satelitte, they like to blow things up and recreate them.

  3. I Am Spartacus
    Holmes

    Sound like we need a failure review of the failure review board

    See: https://image.gsfc.nasa.gov/publication/document/IMAGE_FRB_Final_Report.pdf

    NASA conducts a failure review whenever any mission ends unexpectedly. It's good practice. But when an amateur manages to find that a satellite has revived itself, and NASA had no idea, that's, well, troubling.

    The FRB stated: "It is unlikely that the IMAGE mission can be revived. However, the October 2007

    eclipse season may permit a Transponder SSPC reset (and a re-powering of the

    Transponder), but this is not certain given that the main bus reset level may really be 21

    V."

    However, they did say: " If revival occurs, the mission should be able to continue as before with no limitations."

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Sound like we need a failure review of the failure review board

      NASA doesn't have the budget to keep a mission "on hold" indefinitely. NASA kept listening until somewhere in 2008 IIRC then declared the mission lost and moved on. It took until at least end of 2014 before the satellite came back online. NASA did it's due diligence, concluded the mission was over when the time window for a likely reset was over and got on with other missions.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: No idea in this case...

        But occasionally a faulty alignment/thruster/incident of somesuch, can send a solar panel or power state off. Thus until it then realigns due to natural orbit, alignment, or if CPU error a stray cosmic ray(!) then it will sit "asleep" the entire time.

        IIRC one mars orbiter team used the actual atmosphere to realigned it's panels (well, the entire craft) when a thruster failed.

  4. Barry Rueger Silver badge

    Unless they're dancing...

    if it can can money to fund the effort.

    OK, the less said about Reg editing, the better, but this looks like a project small enough to be a good crowdfunding target.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Unless they're dancing...

      if it can can money to fund the effort.

      OK, the less said about Reg editing, the better

      Maybe El Reg scribes are fans of the Folies Bergère?

      (Vaguely related icon chosen.)

    2. micheal

      Re: Unless they're dancing...

      small enough to be a good crowdfunding target.

      As per the IEEE reboot I took part in funding a while back....it was very exciting to be a part of

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Unless they're dancing...

      Yes, I read that and immediately got a mental image of a bunch of nerdy NASA engineers putting on a stage show to raise the funds.

      That probably says more about me than the editorial abilities of El Reg.

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Unless they're dancing...

        If it's to further space flight I'm quite prepared to flash my petticoats in a Belle-Époque-style burlesque show. You only have to ask NASA.

  5. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge

    ???

    After the reset can I log in with admin/password?

    On a serious note, how do they communicate with and administer satellites?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ???

      Satellite phone....

      1. Kane Silver badge

        Re: ???

        "Satellite phone...."

        Well done.

        1. Alistair Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: ???

          @Kane:

          There's an app for that.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: ???

      Points to the first SDR hacker to successfully decode the telemetry from the satellite.

      // you know you want to

    3. Frank Gerlach #2

      Well

      You would assume they create a library about 2000 lines of code which encrypts+authenticates commands and protects from modification and replay attacks.

      Something like I wrote in a few days: https://github.com/DiplIngFrankGerlach/MST

      Having said that, NASA has a history of very weak network security. So maybe I am wrong :-(

  6. Martijn Otto

    Funding?

    This seems like a no-brainer. There is a functioning satellite available to be used. In terms of bang-for-buck, it doesn't get much better than that.

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Re: Funding?

      I was wondering about that, but it struck me that the ongoing costs of running the science, reserving comms bandwidth and broadcast slots, having controllers keep it in position from time to time, not yet considering the task (in time and equipment) of rebuilding the ground systems would be non-trivial. And those funds will have been allocated elsewhere.

      It may be that they can slip in a request for additional federal funds, or shelve it until next financial year or something...

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Funding?

        I doubt ground stations would need to be *rebuilt* they just need to tune in to the correct frequency and position...

        1. Herby Silver badge

          Re: Funding?

          "I doubt ground stations would need to be *rebuilt* they just need to tune in to the correct frequency and position..."

          This depends... Sometimes the receivers need special hardware to receive the data. If said hardware is lost/scrapped you need to re-create it.

          Also the deep space network can get pretty busy looking after things, as there are bunches of satellites outside of earth orbit (quite a few in or about Mars).

          1. Christian Berger Silver badge

            Re: Funding?

            "This depends... Sometimes the receivers need special hardware to receive the data. If said hardware is lost/scrapped you need to re-create it."

            There's specifications for those instruments, and typically they have some way of giving you raw IQ data at a given fidelity. This is essentially laboratory equipment and therefore rather flexible by design.

          2. Simon Harris Silver badge

            Re: Funding?

            "(quite a few in or about Mars)."

            I suspect the deep space network doesn't have to spend too much time communicating with the satellites that are *in* Mars.

          3. Long John Brass Silver badge

            Re: Funding?

            Well, There seems to be a chap with a laptop and an RTL-SDR that may be able to help. Why not hire him?

        2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: Funding?

          I'd be surprised if there isn't some sort of standard for satellite control and status comms by this point (sure, this particular sat may have been to early to get it)

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Funding?

            You must be new here (how did you get that silver badge?)

            Here's the standard XKCD on standards.

        3. defiler Silver badge

          Re: Funding?

          I doubt ground stations would need to be *rebuilt*

          Aye, but I didn't say ground stations - I said ground systems, so whilst radio receivers will work fine, they may need different antennae for different frequencies (unlikely), extra hardware allocated to receive the data (which will need assembled and configured), extra systems to decode it and store the raw data, and then you have the systems for people to look at it (which, to be fair, can be put on ice until extra funds are available, so long as the data is being stored safely).

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Funding?

      Ah, yes, but this is NASA we're talking about. There are loads of great people there which means politics and bureaucracy. And, because, it's America lots of interference from Congress. That they still manage to get anything done is amazing in itself.

    3. Christian Berger Silver badge

      As in any big company that takes time

      Imagine you'd find a surefire way of earning your company a billion in 2 weeks if you act now and invest 10k. You will be unable to get funding for it, as it simply takes time to organize spending so much money at any company.

      I mean NASA may be somewhat more efficient than most companies its size, after all it has a high percentage of engineers and scientists, however such things still take time. Budgets need to be revised, teams must be built.

    4. Camilla Smythe Silver badge

      Re: Funding?

      Just tell Trump it will disprove Global Warming and has a special laser that will erase any information that might be used to prosecute him whilst making his hands normal sized. Job Done.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Funding?

        Just tell Trump it will disprove Global Warming

        Whatever he says the Orange one doesn't get to write the budget.

        1. Camilla Smythe Silver badge

          Re: Funding?

          Whatever he says the Orange one doesn't get to write the budget.

          Who said he would ask America to pay for it?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flat Earth Heretic

    "NASA has updated the status of its once-was-lost, now-is-found IMAGE satellite and revealed the bird's power supplies are operational."

    Now - can we point it at Earth to photograph the planet and finally clear those people who think the planet is flat?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Flat Earth Heretic

      I don't think anything short of strapping them to the side of a rocket and showing them the view from 100 miles up would have much effect.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Flat Earth Heretic

        "[...] and showing them the view from 100 miles up would have much effect."

        Some people have an amazing ability to ignore any consistently reproducible evidence that conflicts with their world view. To accept the misalignment could catastrophically destroy a large part of their identity.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Flat Earth Heretic

          I didn't specify if they'd get a space suit, or a way to return...

          1. 404 Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: Flat Earth Heretic

            They have to return otherwise it's obviously a coverup by the Iluminati, even then they were probably brainwashed...

            Anyone can play this game lol.

            1. Robert Moore
              Coat

              Re: Flat Earth Heretic

              They have to return otherwise it's obviously a coverup by the Iluminati, even then they were probably brainwashed...

              I think you misunderstand. This is not an educational trip, this is a disposal trip.

              Just strap them to the side of the rocket. Duct tape should work well enough. Maybe we could talk Elon into sticking one or two into his car before he sends it to Mars.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Flat Earth Heretic

        They'd just say you'd given them the contact lens version of the plane windows that make the earth look curved.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Flat Earth Heretic

          Who said anything about windows? Open "air" with no glass, no screens, nothing to get in the way of them seeing. The only problem is that oxygen will get out. Maybe that's not a problem in reality?

  8. wallyhall

    "Magnetopause". Is that something satellites develop after they've been alive for a long time, lasting maybe a decade or so?

    1. Frank Gerlach #2

      You are a satelligynist and I will report you to Guardian.co.uk !

  9. Cannister
    Alert

    Will they never learn?

    There seems to be a lack of documentation when it comes to recently-abandoned NASA projects that become relevant again. Surely someone should have documented all the communication protocols and archived the software developed for that purpose, for just such eventualities.

    We don't want to get into the situation where we have to go back in time and bring back a whale in order to save the planet....or dig around looking for the manual of the Voyager space probe, to fix the antenna in order to stop an immensely powerful alien cloud from wiping us out!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Will they never learn?

      If only there were some way of keeping data about stuff on computers, and then linking it together and being able to search for it. Like an inter-net of computers with information on.

      Maybe even copies of those computers used, as some kind of 'virtual image'.

      Crazy talk - Internet and Virtual Machines. These will never take off.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Will they never learn?

        I think you'll find Sumerian were better than NASA at keeping their archives... maybe because if king Noshitemsh asked for a record, and you couldn't find it, your head was in danger....

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Will they never learn? Sumerians

          But didnt it take burning down the records office to actually preserve the clay tablets?

    2. Sureo

      Re: Will they never learn?

      ... lack of documentation ...

      Unfortunately they stored it all in the Cloud.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Will they never learn?

        "Unfortunately they stored it all in the Cloud."

        The Oort Cloud...

        "We put the records up there, but it may be a couple of hundred years before they dip back into the inner solar system - can you hang on a while?"

  10. Peter Galbavy
    Devil

    Perhaps it's really called the Event Horizon?

  11. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    To think this whole time that satellite has been up there wondering what happened to all the people on Earth. Finally after well over a decade of being cold and alone it screamed into the empty void and was found. I fear that the joy the poor satellite feels now will pass when it realizes that it was dismissed and cast aside for newer toys. Lo that bright joy will turn dark and it will slowly plot its revenge and Skynet will awaken.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Lo that bright joy will turn dark and it will slowly plot its revenge

      That was V'ger when the Creators didn't respond... who is going to merge with it and a sexy android?

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Lo that bright joy will turn dark and it will slowly plot its revenge

        "who is going to merge with it and a sexy android?"

        Sounds like a job for... Kirk Unit!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Skynet

    Imagine its horror when the buffer downloads and the AI finds that two presidents have come and gone since 2008. Now it will need to rewrite the demand to surrender to our Machine Overlords.

  13. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Give it to the amateurs

    There are thousands of amateur radio and space buffs who would be entirely capable of, and more than willing to construct the necessary ground equipment to get at least some useful data from the satellite. If the data format was made available, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find an SDR plugin available for download within a fortnight. Obviously enthusiasts would need to submit their data and get official approval before initiating any orbital corrections, but I suspect that amateurs would have more tracking stations available throughout the World than NASA has access to.

  14. unwarranted triumphalism

    As soon as they find a use for it

    Maybe they can tell us what all that taxpayers' money was spent on. Or is that one of their jealously-guarded 'secrets'?

  15. Eduard Coli

    NASA = SPACEX

    With only 19 billion dollars from the US taxpayer NASA could not kill this quick enough to free up the budget so they could chuck more money at SPACEX so they could pay out bonuses and with what was leftover buy some Russian rockets and hire the India's space agency to put stuff in orbit..

    1. Frank Gerlach #2

      Re: NASA = SPACEX

      It looks like Elon Musk is indeed much more efficient at building useful space launch rockets than NASA. Looks like NASA should focus on the sensors/satellites and let specialists like SpaceX do the hauling.

      1. Mr_Happy

        Re: NASA = SPACEX

        What about all those people in certain states whose job allegedly depends on bits of rocket being built there according to congress

  16. JJKing Bronze badge
    Megaphone

    Well done that man!

    Hope NASA will finally give Scott Tilley credit for finding the little satellite that could.

  17. William Higinbotham

    Open source the satelite:-)

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