The 2014 Earth return of the ISEE-3/ICE spacecraft

David W. Dunham, Robert W. Farquhar, Michael Loucks, Craig E. Roberts, Dennis Wingo, Keith Cowing, Leonard N. Garcia, Tim Craychee, Craig Nickel, Anthony Ford, Marco Colleluori, David C. Folta, Jon Giorgini, Edward Nace, John E. Spohr, William Dove, Nathan Mogk, Roberto Furfaro, Warren L. Martin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


In 1978, the 3rd International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3) became the first libration-point mission, about the Sun-Earth LI point. Four years later, a complex series of lunar swingbys and small propulsive maneuvers ejected ISEE-3 from the Earth-Moon system, to fly by a comet (Giacobini-Zinner) for the first time in 1985, as the rechristened International Cometary Explorer (ICE). In its heliocentric orbit, ISEE-3/ICE slowly drifted around the Sun to return to the Earth's vicinity in 2014. Maneuvers in 1986 targeted a 2014 August 10th lunar swingby to recapture ISEE-3 into Earth orbit. In 1999, ISEE-3/ICE passed behind the Sun; after that, tracking of the spacecraft ceased and its control center at Goddard was shut down. In 2013, meetings were held to assess the viability of "re-awakening" ISEE-3. The goal was to target the 2014 lunar swingby, to recapture the spacecraft back into a halo-like Sun-Earth LI orbit. However, special hardware for communicating with the spacecraft via NASA's Deep Space Network stations was excessed after 1999, and NASA had no funds to reconstruct the lost equipment. After ISEE-3's carrier signal was detected on March 1st with the 20m antenna at Bochum, Germany, Skycorp, Inc. decided to initiate the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, to use software-defined radio with a less costly S-band transmitter that was purchased with a successful RocketHub crowdsourcing effort. NASA granted Skycorp permission to command the spacecraft. Commanding was successfully accomplished using the 300m radio telescope at Arecibo. New capture trajectories were computed, including trajectories that would target the August lunar swingby and use a second AV that could target later lunar swingbys that would allow capture into almost any desired final orbit, including orbits about either the Sun-Earth L1 or L2 points, a lunar distant retrograde orbit, or targeting a flyby of the Earth-approaching active Comet Wirtanen in 2018. A tiny spinup maneuver was performed on July 2nd, the first since 1987. A 7 m/sec ΔV maneuver was attempted on July 8th, to target the August lunar swingby. But the maneuver failed; telemetry showed that only about 0.15 m/sec of ΔV was accomplished, then the thrust quickly decayed. The telemetry indicated that the nitrogen pressurant was gone so hydrazine could not be forced to the thrusters. The experience showed how a spacecraft can survive 30 years of space weather. The spacecraft flew 18 thousand km from the Moon, resulting in a heliocentric orbit that will return near the Earth in 2029.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication65th International Astronautical Congress 2014, IAC 2014
Subtitle of host publicationOur World Needs Space
PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation, IAF
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781634399869
StatePublished - 2014
Event65th International Astronautical Congress 2014: Our World Needs Space, IAC 2014 - Toronto, Canada
Duration: Sep 29 2014Oct 3 2014

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
ISSN (Print)0074-1795


Other65th International Astronautical Congress 2014: Our World Needs Space, IAC 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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