NASA fixes solar observation spacecraft by turning it off and turning it on again

'Firemode reset' sees Interstellar Boundary Explorer back on the job

NASA engineers have managed to restore the Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft to working condition by using the oldest trick in the computing book.

IBEX was put into contingency mode in February after NASA reset its onboard systems and the almost 15-year-old spacecraft's flight computer subsequently failed to respond to commands uploaded from mission control. Engineers have since performed a so-called "firecode reset" as the craft's orbit reached its closest point to Earth.

"To take the spacecraft out of a contingency mode, 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," NASA confirmed on Monday.

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

Launched in 2008, the IBEX spacecraft carries instruments to detect energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) that form when hot ions from the solar wind collide with cold gaseous atoms from the interstellar medium, the stuff in-between stars in outer space. 

Using data collected from the IBEX-Hi and IBEX-Lo sensors, astronomers can plot the boundaries of the Solar System. All the planets and other astronomical objects are encased in a bubble known as the "heliosphere" created by the solar wind.  

IBEX has helped scientists discover how solar activity impacts the heliosphere over the Sun's 11-year cycle. The heliosphere generated by the Sun expands and contracts during periods of stronger and weaker activity, leading to higher and lower concentrations of ENAs.

These findings were only possible because IBEX has been operational for so long. "It takes so many years for these effects to reach the edge of the heliosphere," Jamey Szalay, a research scientist at Princeton University working on the mission, previously said. "For us to have this much data from IBEX, finally allows us to make these long-term correlations."

Fixing the satellite will allow astronomers to continue gathering data on the Sun's activity and solar wind for a while yet. ®

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