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ISEE-3 Team Fires Up Engines on 36-Year-Old NASA Probe

An old NASA spacecraft under the control of a private team fired its thrusters on Thursday for the first time in a generation.

NASA's International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 probe, or ISEE-3, which the agency retired in 1997, performed the maneuver in preparation for a larger trajectory correction next week. The spacecraft hadn't fired its engines since 1987, ISEE-3 Reboot Project team members said.

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It took several attempts and days to perform the roll maneuver because ISEE-3 was not responding to test commands. But this time, controllers got in touch. They increased the roll rate from 19.16 revolutions per minute to 19.76 RPM, putting it within mission specifications for trajectory corrections.

"All in all, a very good day," co-leader Keith Cowing wrote in a blog post on the ISEE-3 Reboot Project's website.

The recent maneuvers were commanded using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, through a command center in California. Cowing and his group are now gathering data from the spacecraft to get ready for its next contact with the Deep Space Network, a collection of NASA dishes the team is renting to get precise information on ISEE-3's location.

With the help of more than $150,000 raised via crowdfunding, the team reactivated the hibernating spacecraft a few weeks ago. ISEE-3 ceased operations in 1997 following a 19-year career that saw it perform a variety of missions, such as observing the sun and chasing comets.

ISEE-3 needs to be moved to put it in an advantageous position to communicate with Earth. Then the tem will see how well its 13 scientific instruments function. At least one instrument, the magnetometer, is working well enough to do science. "Recent magnetometer data shows recent solar event," the team said via Twitter.

— Elizabeth Howell, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter, or Space.com on Twitter,Facebook and Google+.