NASA fixes spacecraft with old-school reboot

NASA engineers performed an external reset of the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft to kick it back into life.

While rocket science and interplanetary communications aren’t the easiest lines of work, more rudimentary solutions sometimes do the trick.

Engineers at NASA remotely turned IBEX off and on again, successfully bringing the multimillion-dollar spacecraft out of the contingency mode it went into last month.

“To take the spacecraft out of a contingency mode it entered last month, the mission team performed a firecode reset (which is an external reset of the spacecraft) instead of waiting for the spacecraft to perform an autonomous reset and power cycle on March 4,” the agency said.

NASA took advantage of the satellite’s favorable trajectory, as the spacecraft was closest to Earth during the reset. IBEX’s orbit is highly elliptical, with the spacecraft flying over 137,000 miles from our planet at its furthest point and closing in at 4,300 miles at its closest.

“After the firecode reset, command capability was restored. IBEX telemetry shows that the spacecraft is fully operational and functioning normally,” NASA said.

The device ran into trouble last month when its computer experienced a flight computer reset, putting the spacecraft into contingency mode. Spacecraft run specific software to ensure that a single glitch doesn’t break the whole system.

After IBEX’s unintentional reset, NASA lost the ability to remotely command the spacecraft, even though the satellite’s systems were alive and functional.

Launched in 2008, IBEX studies the interstellar boundary, the region where our solar system ends and interstellar space begins. NASA launched the spacecraft to find out how solar winds, electromagnetic particles emitted by the Sun, interact with matter in interstellar space.

Similarly to the way Earth’s magnetic field protects our planet from solar radiation, the Sun’s heliosphere protects our planetary system from interstellar radiation. NASA aims to better understand the interaction with the help of IBEX.

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