In what they are calling a “preanniversary,” Wired is highlighting the image above (thanks to NASA, ESA, H. Weaver, A. Stern, and the HST Pluto Companion Search Team) of everybody’s favourite dwarf planet. A year from now, New Horizons will be giving us much better pictures of Pluto. And we will finally find out if Robert Silverberg was right.
The ISEE-3 Reboot Project started well, but it now seems that this antique spacecraft is out of gas. Not out of fuel, per se, but out of the nitrogen needed to pressurise the fuel.
As at July 11, communication with the spacecraft had a 29.159 second round-trip time. Since the speed of light is 299,792,458 metres per second, this corresponds to a distance of 4,370,821 kilometres (eleven times the average distance to the moon). ISEE-3 will fly around the moon in August (hopefully not into the moon), and then orbit the sun. The ISEE-3 Reboot team will continue to receive data from the spacecraft (and perhaps do some science), but the original plans will have to be abandoned. Which is a great pity.
Update 1: the ISEE-3 Reboot team have not yet given up, and are attempting some “deep space plumbing repairs.” It seems that lack of gas may not be the problem, and that the situation is both more complicated and more hopeful.
Update 2: it does seem that lack of nitrogen is the problem after all. This means that trajectory can no longer be controlled, but plans are nevertheless to put ISEE-3 into “citizen science” mode.