The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has finally re-established contact with one of their Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories, known as the STEREO-B spacecraft, on Aug. 21. Apparently, the space agency’s last communication with the spacecraft was on Oct. 1, 2014.
The team managing the STEREO-B spacecraft has worked tirelessly to attempt contact with it for more than 22 months. With the help of NASA’s Deep Space Network or DSN, which tracks down and communicates with all missions in space, the team locked down on the spacecraft’s downlink carrier at 6:27 PM EDT.
The STEREO Missions Operations team adds that they are planning to conduct more recovery processes to study the spacecraft’s health as well as to re-establish its altitude control. They also aim to evaluate all of STEREO-B’s subsystems and instruments.
STEREO-B is one of two spacecrafts that orbit the sun. The other Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, called STEREO-Ahead (STEREO-A), orbits a little closer to the sun than our Earth while STEREO-Behind orbits at a farther distance from the sun than it does with our planet. Both these objects offer the space agency with previously unobserved views of the far side of the sun.
Both STEREO-Ahead and STEREO-Behind were launched back in 2006 and were supposed to only study the sun for two years, ending in 2008. However, they both lasted much longer than expected, like many of the space agency’s spacecrafts.
The team lost communication with STEREO-B during a test of its command loss timer, which is a hard reset initiated after it goes without communications from Earth for 72 hours, the space agency said in a press release. The team was simply testing this function so they could study the solar conjunction, which occurs when the spacecraft’s line of sight to our planet was blocked by the sun, consequently cutting off all communication.