The Deep Space Climate Observatory – a satellite that warns of incoming space storms that could knacker telecommunications on Earth – is up and running again after being shut down for eight months by a technical glitch.
Launched in 2015 aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the bird, known as DSCOVR for short, was sent into orbit between the Earth and the Sun. Circling at a distance of about a million miles away from terra firma, satellite sports instruments designed to detect approaching geomagnetic storms, and alerts us before highly energetic particles from the solar wind pelt our planet.
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It is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency that falls under the US government's Department of Commerce, with help from NASA and the Air Force.
In June, boffins realized DSCOVR’s laser gyroscope was malfunctioning, which was rather bad news: DSCOVR needs this gizmo to control its attitude in space. It was put into “safe hold,” a mode that halted all scientific observations for eight months. Thankfully, engineers from NASA and NOAA have now fixed the issue with a software patch.
“Bringing DSCOVR operational again shows the unique skills and adaptability of our NOAA and NASA engineers and the care we are taking to get the maximum life from an aging asset," said Steve Volz, the assistant NOAA administrator for its Satellite and Information Service.
While DSCOVR was asleep, Earth wasn't obliviously spinning through the obsidian void: NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer was used to gather space weather observations for boffins to analyze and forward on to officials and the public.
The observatory is roughly 1.8 meters long and 1.3 metres wide, and features an antenna, two arrays of solar panels attached on either side of its cylindrical body, a propulsion module, and five main instruments: a solar wind plasma sensor, a magnetometer, an electron spectrometer that measures the solar wind output, a radiometer looking at the amount of radiation emitted by Earth, and a pulse height analyzer that measures the rush of solar particles that could frazzle DSCOVR’s own instruments.
Built to last three years, the plucky satellite is still going five years after it was deployed. ®