When NASA launched their IMAGE satellite back in 2000, they were expecting the $150 million craft to have a long career of service as it photographed and studied the Earth’s surrounding magnetosphere. But that career was cut short in 2005, went IMAGE suddenly went off the grid.
However, it apparently wasn’t gone for good. Recently, astronomer Scott Tilley was perusing radio signals from satellites and attempting to track down the mysterious government ZUMA satellite that recently went missing during a malfunction on a SpaceX rocket. ZUMA never showed up, but he did eventually come across a signal from something titled “2000-017A.” Being an astronomer, it didn’t take him long to track down what that meant.
Because it meant a few things. First of all, that number does indeed (as you’ve likely guessed) refer to IMAGE, which was tracked down for the first time in over 12 years. And beyond that, it meant that not only was IMAGE found, it was also still attempting to transmit data back to NASA, making Tilley the first person in ages to listen to the poor satellite.
Strange things in space
Missing Space Probes and Satellites:
March 28, 1989
The Russian Probe, Phobos 2 was lost under mysterious and unexplained circumstances. Russian Colonel Marina Popovich has since stated that Soviet missions had determined that the probe’s namesake, Phobos 2, one of the moons of Mars, is in fact artificial and hollow.
January 29, 1992
The Office of Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) convinces NASA to send an unmanned probe to the moon. The probe, “Clementine I,” is launched into a polar orbit around the moon. Because of it’s high orbit it is able to map almost the entire surface of the moon. Scientists are shocked to find that the surface variation in topography is up to twelve miles, not five miles as previously believed. They discover that some of the moon’s mountains are a half-mile taller than Mount Everest, the highest mountain on earth. Clementine orbits around the moon for seventy-four days and then malfunctions.
The Mars Observer is launched. The Observer is designed to provide an extremely detailed mapping of the entire surface of Mars using the latest technology, including short laser bursts bounced off the surface for pin-point accuracy. Originally, NASA has no plans to put a camera on board. Why? Nonetheless, scientists fight NASA like cats and dogs. They win and an innovative new system of cameras is installed.
August 21, 1994
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory loses contact with Mars Observer just hours before it was scheduled to begin orbiting the Red Planet. This was the first failure of its kind in seventeen years. Several different reasons are given for the loss of the Observer, but no really knows why. The Mars Observer is never heard from again.
January 14, 1994
A NASA investigatory panel announces, “No one will probably ever know exactly what happened to the spacecraft.” The panel’s attempt to understand the Observer’s silence was hindered because the spacecraft telemetry was turned off before the pressurization of its fuel tanks as it prepared to enter orbit around Mars.
Turkish TURKSAT I and BULSAT I communications satellites are lost when a French Ariane launch vehicle’s third-stage propulsion system fails.
China loses its Apstar-2 satellite when launch vehicle explodes. Hughes Space and Communications Company and Great Wall Industrial Corporation disagree as to the cause of the explosion.
United States satellite NOAA 13 vanishes from orbit.
November 17, 1995
Russia’s Mars space probe is lost when a booster malfunctions and falls back to earth carrying 270 grams of live plutonium. Two years later, health officials attribute a worldwide increase in lung cancer rates to highly active radioactive material being disbursed into the atmosphere from falling and disintegrating satellites.
November 22, 1995
Two Russian spy satellites are announced to have been lost by the Russian Embassy. (Don’t you just love it, both the U.S. and Russia now “announce” the launching of “spy” satellites?)
Launch of Athena rocket from Vandenderg Air Force Base fails.
The Cosmos 1275 satellite disintegrates. The crash is attributed to a collision with space debris.
Lewis satellite fails after being launched from Vandenberg on an Athena rocket.
December 25, 1997
The final booster on a Russian-made Proton-K rocket fails. The “communications” satellite it was carrying falls into an orbit of only 125 miles up instead of the 22,500 mile-high orbit it was planned for. The lower orbit makes the satellite totally useless and subject to falling into the atmosphere and burning up.