While trying to locate ZUMA, amateur astronomer Scott Tilley accidentally discovered the first satellite NASA launched to relay images of the Earth’s magnetosphere. The Imager for Magnetopause to Aurora Global Exploration mission was killed back in 2005 after the space agency lost connection with the satellite.
After the controversial ZUMA launch, there has been much interest in discovering what happened to the satellite. According to the Wall Street Journal’s anonymous sources in the government, ZUMA is lost since it plunged into the ocean. However, there could be a possibility that it is already in orbit.
It was for that purpose that Tilley decided to scan the heavens. While Tilley failed to find evidence that ZUMA is in orbit, he noticed something unusual in High Earth Orbit. According to his account, the curve on 2275.905MHz is consistent with a satellite. He had to look into what he found right away to know more details. In his blog, Tilley revealed his findings.
“A quick identity scan using ‘strf’ (sat tools rf) revealed the signal to come from 2000-017A, 26113, called IMAGE.”
Tilley reached out to Dr. James L. Burch, Southwest Research Institute director and the principal investor for IMAGE. The former IMAGE Ground System Manager and Mission Director, Richard J. Burley, contacted Tilley after Burch alerted him about this development.
Burley expressed his gratitude for all the efforts to locate IMAGE. According to him, IMAGE ranked second on the list of the most valuable space-physics missions when they lost contact with it. While in service, IMAGE led to more than 39 discoveries about the planet’s plasma-sphere and magnetosphere.
Burley also acknowledged that “all indications so far suggest that it is, in fact, IMAGE.”
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On Dec. 18, 2005, after 5.8 years of providing invaluable information to NASA, ground controllers did not receive a response from IMAGE or receive telemetry signals. IMAGE may have been lost, but the primary mission had already been completed. The problem happened while IMAGE was on an extended mission.
Based on the space agency’s analysis, the power supply failed and IMAGE got lost in space. NASA reported that IMAGE’s revival might have happened during the October 2007 eclipse season, although the possibility is unlikely. While it took longer than expected to locate the lost satellite, the recovery of NASA’s IMAGE satellite has many promising benefits for practitioners in the field of science.