What one amateur observer did that kicked NASA into action – the backstory and timeline

“But who’s going to listen to some guy in his basement with a coil of copper wire on his roof?”

We’ve covered this before, and now here’s the backstory and timeline from NASA Goddard, it’s fun reading.

A Detailed Timeline of The IMAGE Mission Recovery

The Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration, or IMAGE, spacecraft was re-discovered in January 2018 after more than twelve years of silence. A powerhouse of magnetosphere and aurora research, the IMAGE mission was a key driver of studies of the Sun-Earth connection from its launch on March 25, 2000, until its last contact on Dec. 18, 2005.

Now a watchful citizen scientist, NASA, and a team of IMAGE scientists and engineers detected and received data from the spacecraft. Here’s how it happened.

Saturday, Jan. 20

1:39 AM EST:  Amateur astronomer Scott Tilley in Roberts Creek, British Columbia, using his home satellite detection rig, begins his nightly sky scan then goes to bed.

Scott Tilley image via Washington Post

Sometime in the afternoon – Reviewing the previous night’s data manually – 4 MHz at a time – Tilley detects an unexpected radio frequency signal. Analyzing the specifics of its Doppler Curve – the way the frequency modulates as it crosses the sky, like the siren of a passing ambulance – and comparing it to the orbital elements logged in the space-track catalog, it came back as NASA spacecraft 26113, corresponding to the IMAGE mission.

Unaware of any details of the mission, Tilley shrugged, logged the finding into his database, and continued looking through his data.

A few minutes later. Reconsidering his findings — why hadn’t he ever detected the satellite in any previous scans? — Tilley took a closer look. Suddenly a portion of the spectrum just below the data he’d read jumped out. The (relatively weak) signal he’d originally detected had only been a harmonic of the spacecraft’s fundamental frequency, which was much stronger – one of the strongest he’d seen.

Saturday Evening

A review of public frequency lists – where other amateur astronomers post their findings – came up empty. No one else had detected this satellite in recent years. After some research, Tilley turned up an article on EO PORTAL about the IMAGE mission. “But they were referring to IMAGE in the past-tense,” Tilley said.

Tilley eventually found IMAGE’s detailed Failure Report which stated that the spacecraft’s power source had likely been tripped, and that NASA had watched to see if it might be rebooted by an extended eclipse. But a 2007 eclipse came and went while IMAGE remained silent, and the mission was declared over.

“The realization came over me . . . that what I was observing was the fact that the spacecraft had rebooted,” Tilley remarked. “But who’s going to listen to some guy in his basement with a coil of copper wire on his roof?”

Sunday, Jan. 21

01:48 am EST – Tilley publishes his findings in a blog post, then spends the next two days at work.

Tuesday, Jan. 23

01:38 am EST – Ruminating on his findings with his wife over dinner (who, according to Tilley, admonished him that “someone who’s smart enough to find a lost satellite surely can find the guy who built the thing”), Tilley gets up from the table to do some more research. He discovers the contact information for Dr. James Burch, the IMAGE principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and emails him about his findings.

4:41 am EST – Burch responds. “This is very exciting. I really appreciate your doing this and letting me know about it.”

Burch shares the news with Richard J. Burley, former ground system manager and mission director for IMAGE at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Burley (after reportedly having to “clean all the coffee off of my laptop that I spit on it when I saw Jim Burch’s email…”) jumps to action, contacting NASA’s Space Science Mission Operations Office (SSMO) and Deep Space Network (DSN) to alert them.

11:44 am EST – With the news of the discovery spreading amongst the hobbyist community, amateur observer Paul Marsh reports to Tilley the first independent observation of a similar satellite signal:

Credits: Twitter: @uhf_satcom

2:12 pm EST – Burley begins communicating with a team of IMAGE scientists and engineers.  His plan is to first determine if the object sending the signal is indeed IMAGE, and if so, whether the Deep Space Network can communicate with it.

3:31 pm EST – Lisa Rhoads, system engineer and former IMAGE DSN Scheduler at NASA Goddard, recovers the last known Nominal Sequence of Events (NSOE) codes used by IMAGE – essential files used to control the Deep Space Network systems during the execution of pre-pass, pass, and post-pass actions that tell the antennae how to communicate with the spacecraft.

She also updates Burley on the ways that the Deep Space Network had changed since 2005. Major changes include the decommissioning of several ground stations and antennae that were used to track IMAGE in the past, as well as several significant functionality changes in how the communications work.

11:02 pm EST  – Rhoads begins setting up the software required to communicate with IMAGE, including the NSOE codes.

Thursday, Jan. 25

To verify Tilley’s radio frequency observations as well as attempt to directly contact the satellite, NASA team members across the US begin coordinating to verify the downlink signal with a spectrum analyzer and capture a digital spectrum recording.

Steve Waldher (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in  Pasadena, California), Jack Lippincott (JPL) and Lisa Rhoads (Goddard) coordinate to recover and read the old NSOE files.

Leslie Ambrose (Goddard) and the Telecom Networks & Technology Branch at Goddard attempt to use a local Near Earth Network antenna to track the spacecraft.  Unable to detect a signal on its first attempt, a review of pointing data and center frequency and adjustments are made and another attempt is planned for the following day.

Rebecca Besser (Goddard) and Dale Fink (Goddard) create orbit models for IMAGE to determine when recent long-duration eclipses occurred and understand when IMAGE could have been rebooted.  They identify an eclipse in mid 2012, which was as long as that of 2007, and another in early 2017, though it was not as long.

Friday, Jan. 26

11:54 am EST – Engineers at Goddard acquire the downlink signal and analyze its characteristics. Initial readings are consistent with those expected from the IMAGE spacecraft.  Further analysis reveals that the signal strength is oscillating, indicating that the target object may be spinning, as would be expected if the object was, in fact, IMAGE.

Throughout the day, five antennae located throughout the US—in Greenbelt, Maryland; Laurel, Maryland; Berkeley, California; White Sands, New Mexico; and Wallops Island, Virginia—come online to monitor and track the object. With all five sites producing consistent readings, there is much optimism that it is, in fact, IMAGE.

Saturday, Jan. 27

2:59 am EST – Tilley completes a review of his data archive and sends results to Burley, suggesting based on analysis of the Doppler Curve that the spacecraft has been transmitting since at least May 4, 2017.

Doppler curves matching those of IMAGE are detected on May 4, 2017.
Credits: Scott Tilley, AScT

9:28 am EST – Notifying the team that the five antennae have agreed on basic radio frequency characteristics of the object, Burley sets the next goal: to read data from the spacecraft.

“Once we successfully capture data, we need the tools to examine the data in order to verify with certainty that it is IMAGE,” Burley writes in an email. “The definitive proof of identity requires reading the data, which will contain IMAGE’s unique [NASA-internal] spacecraft ID number: 166. Until this is done, although the evidence may be strong, we cannot be certain that the spacecraft is in fact IMAGE.”

The challenge for doing so is primarily technical. “The hardware and operating systems that we used back in the day no longer exist,” Burley explains. “The FEDS/ASIST systems still exist and are in use on other missions, but they have been re-hosted, moved from AIX to Linux, and are about a dozen versions ahead of what we used on IMAGE. I’m certain that we’ll run into some compatibility issues.”

Burley adds a closing question: “Does anyone happen to have a 4 mm tape cartridge reader that will work on a modern Linux workstation and a 16-year-old data tape and not disintegrate it?”

3:06 pm EST – Meanwhile, Dr. Cees Bassa, an astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy and collaborator with Tilley, reviews his own data and detects the purported IMAGE signal as early as October 2016:

Timeline of IMAGE’s operational periods and eclipses that could have rebooted it
Credits: Dr. Cees Bassa (ASTRON, the Netherlands)

Monday, Jan. 29

Word continues to spread of IMAGE’s potential recovery. Burley and the team continue to re-work the software and locate documentation in preparation for retrieving data from the spacecraft.

Having overcome the first challenges of knowing the signal signature and where to point the antenna to find it, the hard work begins at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, or APL, in Laurel, Maryland, to track and read data from the spacecraft.

9:40 am EST – IMAGE track begins and the APL Satellite Communications Facility, or SCF, team starts the process of trying to achieve “frame sync lock” – locking onto the spacecraft’s telemetry signal to allow data to be retrieved. The SCF team, working with an incomplete set of IMAGE spacecraft RF and telemetry parameters, try different combinations for over seven hours without success.

Tuesday, Jan. 30

Burley successfully locates a 4 mm tape reader – borrowing a backup from the 1995 Solar and Heliospheric Observatory , or SOHO, mission – and begins attempting to read the 16-year-old tapes. Meanwhile, work continues at APL.

1:40 pm EST  – IMAGE track begins again at the APL Satellite Communications Facility.

2:15 pm EST (approximate) – After slowly fine-tuning the parameters for APL’s 18-meter antenna (APL-18) to find the right combination, lead station engineer Tony Garcia achieves frame sync lock from the spacecraft.

2:16 pm EST – Bill Dove, SCF manager and engineer at APL, verifies telemetry data frames are being received and files stored correctly. A quick look at the raw telemetry files show they contain actual spacecraft data.

3:01 pm EST – Bill Dove sends first telemetry file to NASA personnel.

3:21 pm EST  – Tom Bialas (Goddard) downloads the first data file, and at last reads its ID number: 166, matching the IMAGE spacecraft. Emails quickly circulate amongst the team that there has been definitive confirmation that the spacecraft is IMAGE.

6:20 pm EST – Engineers at APL start an unattended IMAGE track and continue to capture IMAGE data for a continued 8 ½ hours.

Wednesday, Jan. 31

The first data is downloaded and its ID read, but actually accessing and decoding the data it contains requires several more steps – and Burley and the team at Goddard are hard at work deciphering them.

Thursday, Feb. 1

12:40 pm EST – The first data files, indicating the state of the spacecraft, are successfully decoded. The team learns that the battery is fully charged at 100%, and its temperature is in line with those in 2005 and historic values.

3:19 pm EST – Engineers at APL continue to capture IMAGE data. Scientists determine that they are now running on Side A of the Power Distribution Unit (PDU) – a surprise given that it had been thought that the side A was dead after a presumed power failure on Thanksgiving Day in 2004.

The ultimate cause of the current reboot is still not known, but these findings suggest that a reboot in some form has in fact, occurred.

But the data indicate an overall healthy spacecraft. Next steps for the IMAGE team are to see if they can do more than just listen to the spacecraft, and talk back to it. As of Feb. 7, efforts are still underway.

By Miles Hatfield

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

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February 12, 2018 8:34 am

What a heart warming exercise in citizen science and well done to the professional scientists for taking note of an amateur and following up.
Now what?

Reply to  climatereason
February 12, 2018 9:55 am

Now someone has to find funding to put team back together. The project funds were reallocated years ago.

John harmsworth
February 12, 2018 8:38 am

I wonder if this guy could get through bo the AGW crowd.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  John harmsworth
February 12, 2018 9:35 am

Would it were that the typical climatologist was as competent as these NASA engineers!

February 12, 2018 8:41 am

When I was a kid I was often reminded often that most of the great discoveries/inventions in human history were made by “common men and women” with no advanced degrees. I was also reminded regularly that just because you have an advance degree doesn’t mean you are any smarter than the next person.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Edwin
February 12, 2018 12:00 pm

I have to remind myself occasionally that even brilliant people can do dumb things. Although the reverse is much rarer.

Ken Mitchell
February 12, 2018 8:45 am

This isn’t the first time that NASA has had to reverse-engineer the control systems for one of its own satellites.
NASA ought to have stored VMs of the control software for every spacecraft they’ve ever launched!

Reply to  Ken Mitchell
February 12, 2018 9:21 am

Storing costs money.

kokoda - AZEK (Deck Boards) doesn't stand behind its productStorage is cheap
Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 9:29 am

MarkW…………..storage is cheap; just ask NSA.
Also, if you are concerned about costs, there are tens of Billions wasted each year (ask the Davos attendees as a starter) by our gov’t alone.

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 9:43 am

So does reconstructing software when an amateur finds your satellite is not really dead.

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 9:57 am

As the article indicates, recovering the software was the easy part.
Recovering the hardware is what costs.

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 9:58 am

Sheri, you have to compare the cost or archiving data and equipment for every mothballed/dead satellite vs the cost savings for the one in a million that unexpectedly comes back to life.

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 10:00 am

There’s also the cost of breaking everything out of storage every few years, assembling it, and using it to check to see if dead satellites are still dead.

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 10:48 am

Storage hasn’t been a problem for a long time. It’s changing formats and remembering where you stored something that will get you in trouble. 4mm tape cartridge readers aren’t too common anymore.

Reply to  Ken Mitchell
February 12, 2018 10:01 am

Yeah, yeah, but, Mark W – when the Y2K panic was underway, all those old COBOL programmers were called out of retirement to do the changes to the date blocks on millions of lines of coding.

kokoda - AZEK (Deck Boards) doesn't stand behind its product
February 12, 2018 8:55 am

NASA needs more funding to place copper wire on their roof.
Actually, NASA should be very embarrassed;anything else is an excuse.


Why? A satellite comes to life after 13 years of activity, and NASA wasn’t looking for it?
Checking to see if all the presumably dead satellites are still dead would cost a lot of money.

Tom O
Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 11:36 am

Why? Everyone of them transmits on specific frequencies. A receiver capable of scanning those frequencies shouldn’t be that expensive. I realized that these are probably tight beamed signals, but it would seem strange that you would be turning on and off the carrier since that is usually when you damage solid state devices, thus it probably transmits carrier constantly, even if it only transmits data occasionally. You also don’t have to have specific hardware for each one. You emulate it. And you don’t have to do that for satellites that you know are dead – dove into the atmosphere, etc., only those that are inexplicably “lost.” I am wiling to bet there are very few that actually have gone silent without a real explanation for it. Admittedly, the retention of original tapes, etc., might be a bit foolish since you can emulate the operation of the deck and store the material on disk, but to retain the capability to listen is not expensive, nor is retaining the ability to communicate with them, but you don’t need to maintain original equipment – that would be expensive.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 2:15 pm

If the US Government can spend enough money to automatically collect every single electronic transmission in the world passing between all humans, they can monitor supposedly “dead frequencies” once a week.
I realise there is a big foo-ferah about the NSA spying on Americans in the US, but they obviously never worried about spying on all communications of Americans when outside the US nor on every other living person. It would be trivial to monitor the frequencies of satellites as well. In fact I presume they do so but don’t report it to NASA when they find something interesting.
It is obvious that the ‘missing FBI texts’ were easily available on “the database that captures everything” which is admitted to exist but which no one is supposed to have access save on a needy basis. Somewhere in there are the satellite signals from the moment they appeared. Being unidentified, they are probably stored on disk so all the data from the reboot could now be copied and analysed…if they are willing to admit they do this.

February 12, 2018 9:08 am

Exciting! I wonder if the satellite is still useful or did time render its hardware / orbit / mission / whatever less than useful. It is also interesting that there is so much sky and so much frequencies that a satellite may transmit unnotified.
Given how expensive it is to launch anything, this is absolutely stunning news for all the people involved. Let’s hope the satellite doesn’t crash again!

Reply to  Hugs
February 12, 2018 9:23 am

I would think that the first thing they send to the satellite once full communication is restored, is a patch that will cause it too re-boot if communications are lost for a couple of days.

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 11:51 am

You make it sound easy. Writing some mission critical code to an obsolete satellite system with a fifteen year old compiler would not really be my favourite task. ‘OK, manager, my code now runs in my test, compiles with the compiler, runs is emulation, wanna give it for deployment? BTW, my contract is ending, wish you luck. Oh by the way, this works only if the reset line is connected.’

Nigel S
February 12, 2018 9:16 am

Excellent story including the dinner conversation. Behind every great man … . Is he in line for a salvage fee? (Like salvaging an abandoned vessel)

Reply to  Nigel S
February 12, 2018 9:24 am

Hopefully at least a certificate suitable for framing.

Nigel S
Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 9:32 am

On vellum I hope like the RNLI.

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 10:00 am

What do you have against sheep?

Reply to  MarkW
February 12, 2018 2:43 pm

“What do you have against sheep?”
If I told you I may get arrested (:-))

February 12, 2018 9:21 am

This guy reminds me of the machinists/mechanics I encountered at a company I used to work for. I was continually amazed at the hobbies those guys had. It wouldn’t have surprised me to hear that one of them monitored satellites during his off time.

February 12, 2018 9:33 am

They can’t find 10,000 emails on an Exchange Server but can go back 16 years and reconstruct code.
What’s wrong with this picture?

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  rbabcock
February 12, 2018 2:19 pm

The NSA has a copy of all those emails, but they are not supposed to admit it. They have a copy of everything. Did you hear about the guy wrongfully convicted in FL who tried to get from the NSA a copy of his phone’s location that day to prove he wasn’t even in the right city? They denied his request, even through they have the evidence to overturn his conviction.

Steve Richards
February 12, 2018 9:41 am

I reckon the Russians had hand it. /s

February 12, 2018 9:42 am

This gentleman is also a radio amateur – crazy hams!

February 12, 2018 9:43 am

But this is impossible — he’s not a satellite scientist!

February 12, 2018 10:05 am

Radio and astronomy amateur?

Reply to  Agust H Bjarnason
February 12, 2018 11:53 am

Just amateur amateur. French for bad lover.

February 12, 2018 10:08 am

I’m an engineer: software primarily; having laurels tho’ hardly qualifies me regarding NASA missions. Thing is – to this old computer scientist – that I find it dâhmned frustrating that the NASA team(s) had to go hunting for a tape drive that’d work at reading old 4 mm tapes. You mean with the BILLIONS of dollars spent on these guys, that they couldn’t sock what, 1 FTE (full time equivalent) person to continuously re-read old tapes, transfer the data to new media? Or have a program of mothballing dozens of the old, obsolete tape drives in a nice dry warehouse or three?
Here’s my miff-age: WE PAID FOR THE DATA to be collected. We, the taxpayers of the United States. We paid for the competence of the teams to engineer a fine satellite, to duct-tape it to a fine booster, to get it out there, to do its thing. We bankrolled the researchers, the big Ears to the Sky around the world to do the listening. We bankrolled (and continue to bankroll) perhaps a thousand related-to-primary objective missions. The whole deep-space network. Thousands and thousands of careers. Well paid, they. Trusted, they.
So we have to hunt around for 4 millimeter tape readers?
And totally reconstruct how communications was-to-happen for a multimillion dollar satellite?
Are you kidding me?
Well the good news is that they do employ enough smart people that they COULD do a reconstruction. And they DID find a 4 mm tape drive. And it works. And they ARE decoding the telemetry. And it looks good.
But what if the amateur had found the sat, oh, say in another 15 years? Clearly, there’d be no one with 4 mm tape drives in working order any more. So why not (again) take the (presumably not too large) boxes of old media, and at least convert it to files that are reasonably permanent. Like “block chain files” or something.

Reply to  GoatGuy
February 12, 2018 10:15 am

GG- I’ve done a lot of projects with government agencies over the years and you would be surprised how much old, outdated equipment is still being used. My guess is the 4 mm tape drive wasn’t that hard to find. Plus a lot of government coders have been there 30 years and although rusty, probably didn’t take them long to get back going.
One benefit of being a large, inefficient organization.

Reply to  rbabcock
February 13, 2018 2:28 am

I work with a government office that still uses a typewriter, and they have a spare typewriter in storage so when the regular one finally gives up the ghost they can replace it and carry on. I kid you not.

Indiana Sue
Reply to  GoatGuy
February 12, 2018 10:43 am

This satellite issue is a great example of a problem that will confront our successors and future librarians, science historians, archaeologists, and numerous others, perhaps even including alien civilizations. Our technology is upgraded so quickly that data/info is lost simply due to unavailability of the machines to read it. This satellite was “lost” in 2005 – just imagine what people in the year 2105 (much less 3105) will have to contend with in trying to piece together the enormous amounts of data generated. Just because it’s stored in the cloud doesn’t mean that future generations will be able to access that data. Companies go out of business, government prunes data storage centers, communities and academic centers deal with information overload, technology is upgraded way past the point of incompatibility, obsolescence is ignored due to costs of upgrading, people forget about how to translate the technology/data/info, civilizations collapse, etc. I realize that the data has to be stored electronically due to lack of space and ease of distribution, but the greatest thing about the often-demeaned hard-copy paper storage is that it is a direct-read technology – no intervening machines are necessary and proper storage can lead to millennia of data/info survival.

Reply to  Indiana Sue
February 12, 2018 12:17 pm

We need to chip it all onto stone-tablets….

Indiana Sue
Reply to  Indiana Sue
February 12, 2018 1:46 pm

Also – probably the biggest, most comprehensive threat for future data retrieval is EMP (electromagnetic pulse). If that occurs, all the servers will be inoperable and replacements will be impossible to manufacture since all the design is in electronic form and executed via machines that themselves will be impossible to replace. Forget about Artificial Intelligence or robots – they won’t work either. The only hope is radiation-resistant or -hardened components.

Reply to  GoatGuy
February 12, 2018 6:57 pm

Goat Guy,
History repeats in strange ways.
In 1993, a large 2-volume book set named “The International Camellia Register” was published. It had the names and histories of some 16,000 camellias that had been named over the centuries. The research behind it for many years was done mainly by Tom Savige, a friend and senior engineer who as a hobby recorded the data on a narrow magnetic tape for a TRS-80, introduced about 1980. We tried to read the early tapes 10 years later but some lost material in the test process. Then we had to obtain a program to read the tapes and from Australia, with luck, we found a guy in Canada who had written such a program. My son and I used it to recover a great deal of what Tom had recorded, but it was hard work. It was a success, as the publication the 2,207 pages of this Encyclopaedia of Camellias, including several of our own, now shows.
I was surprised at how quickly past data records become readable again only with with difficulty after the short time of 5-10 years. I now have some early CD image files from 1984 that are becoming hard to read mechanically, though software is still ok. Although, only recently I junked our 1984 Sony broadcast quality CD reader for music that still worked most of the time. I remember it cost $1,150 Aust in that year, a bit more in $USA. Geoff.

Old Woman of the North
Reply to  GoatGuy
February 12, 2018 9:19 pm

Just as our State Library did not have computers that could read old discs – 5″ floppies, 3.5″ hard discs ir even the earlier versions. They DID have some old computers that could do that but then someone decided to upgrade all of them to Windows 8 and ruined the lot. To have access to information is important – and being able to read early stuff is also important.

February 12, 2018 10:10 am

Well, Pioneer is still sending info from a great distance, as are the Voyagers and the old codes to get Pioneer to reposition itself had to be dug up.
Never throw out the old hardware. it may become an antique, but it has its uses.
Never throw out the old code books. You never know when someone may find stuck in his chimney a homing pigeon carrying a leg band with a World War One code message attached.

Reply to  Sara
February 12, 2018 11:06 am

Trying to run and maintain old hardware is quite a problem. Once a program is retired, should be no money to maintain the software and to port it (and re-write it) to new OS’s and new hardware compatibility. It would be a waste of scarce resources to do so.
Voyager monitoring has continued to get funding in NASA, thus as hardware evolved and changed, the software and operating documentation and expertise has been continually ported over to new OS’s and new storage systems and new documents. It is not feasible to ask someone to maintain old hardware just in case without giving them money to do it.
Engineering 101: If money is being spent (to be spent), it needs a solid engineering-scientific justification. Not just because someone has a “hope” or affection for a long dead program.

Reply to  joelobryan
February 12, 2018 8:48 pm

Really the money should have been spent ‘up front’. Part of the original requirements should have included delivery of archival quality copies of software, codes, protocols, etc. sufficient to recover from a loss of the primary operations’ docs, software, or hardware. If you come to the end of the program and you don’t have an (long term accessible) archive of all the ‘how to’ information, you’ve cheated yourself and your project. If the lack of proper backup failed to rise up and bite you, well sometimes you get lucky. As for updating to latest hardware/firmware/protocols, you only do that when/if you feel the need. But discarding hard copy and relying on ephemeral storage is beyond sloppy.

Reply to  Sara
February 12, 2018 12:01 pm

The pigeon was dead, of course, but the message was readable. After entering it into a deterministic Turing machine of the age for code breaking, it was revealed that a British general had run out of gin and wanted to double check that the next horse was bringing some to him. He wanted it before afternoon, May 1, 1916.

Reply to  Sara
February 12, 2018 4:17 pm

Somewhere in my basement are a bunch of 5 1/4 disks with some of the most brilliant history papers ever written. All I need is the 40 year old computer and operating systems!

Reply to  Matthew W
February 13, 2018 6:12 am

heh trs-80 running pascal on top of basic like we did in school on the 80’s suddenly came to mind.
man we were fancy, near the year 1985 we got a trs-80 model 3 with GREEN colored typeset LOL
that one computer was literally fought over as the rest were mod 2 or even older mod 1 with only cassette decks.

Reply to  dmacleo
February 13, 2018 3:17 pm

Trs 80 model 3 in 1981. Until then the school had punch cards

Gary Pearse
February 12, 2018 10:10 am

This Tilley should get a job at NASA out of This, or better a cheque for a few million. I know exactly what he would do with it. Me, I’m calling this satellite “Tilley” whenever the subject appears. Nasa should call it Tilley, too. Also, I hope it’s clear to activist climate scientists and their cheering section that Amateur Scientist is not pejorative apellation. A guy like this (and the much maligned W Eschenbach) are formidable colleagues that surpass many of PhDed set. They are today’s Michael Faradays.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
February 12, 2018 11:03 am

Yes, they should rename the satellite and should give Mr. Tilley a large monetary bonus.
Great story. I can just see the engineers scrambling to make things work.

February 12, 2018 10:18 am

Pay Scott Tilley a stipend for his work in rediscovering it. NASA surely has the money to “throw a bone” his way.

Reply to  AZ1971
February 12, 2018 10:46 am

Agree! – + 10000

February 12, 2018 10:46 am

On Amateurs & Tinkerers: read this free book Chronicle of a Cassandra – The Dark Matters of Science -Science and Technology Exposed, written & compiled by Alan Wade. Wade like Tilley was admonished by his wife to do something. Wade’s wife told him to write the book not just talk about his ideas.
Dan Kurt
Book is here: https://nextexx.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/cronicle_for_website.pdf

Non Nomen
Reply to  Dan_Kurt
February 12, 2018 12:23 pm

Thanks! Just downloaded it, and, at first sight, it looks pretty interesting. I’ll have to take some days off to read it…

Reply to  Non Nomen
February 12, 2018 1:15 pm

Do’nt forget to post a review here!

February 12, 2018 10:59 am

So now will they find Khan Noonien Singh and his group hibernating on the long lost ship too?

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 12, 2018 12:20 pm


Michael Jankowski
February 12, 2018 11:22 am

Ah, the fruits of NASA’s Muslim outreach directive.

John in Oz
February 12, 2018 11:58 am

NASA losing communication with the satellite and leaving it out there as space junk is the same attitude the ‘renewable’ industry has with solar and wind generators – when no longer operational they can stay where they are.
Fortunately in the satellite’s case, they are able to re-use it. Not so for ‘renewables’.
Could Elon tow some of the space junk back when his car returns?

Reply to  John in Oz
February 12, 2018 1:24 pm

Actually, the posts that the turbines sit on could be repurposed ad nesting sites for raptors like eagles and buteos like redtailed hawks and turkey buzzards. Just take down the mechanical stuff, place a platform there that lets the raptors build and stabilize their nesting sites, as happens with falcons in Chicago and New York City, and get out of their way.

Stephen Singer
Reply to  John in Oz
February 12, 2018 6:28 pm

His car is not returning it doing a fly by of Mars then off into deep,deep interstellar space beyond our solar system.

Anonymous Coward
Reply to  Stephen Singer
February 14, 2018 1:14 am

No. The car hasn’t reached solar escape velocity.. it’s in an elliptical solar orbit with perihelion just below earth orbit and aphelion somewhere in the asteroid belt. Eventually the earth will zoom by close enough to call out that ‘it’s back’.. May be a while though.

Reply to  Anonymous Coward
February 14, 2018 3:20 am

By then tho radiation will have reduced the car (and it’s occupant) to an unrecognizable lump of matter

Michael M.
February 12, 2018 12:33 pm

Cool 😀

February 12, 2018 1:05 pm

What is amazing to me in all this, is the clear point made in consideration of any possibility to detect or decode-interpret-transalte any possible intelligent extra-terrestrial signal!
I know this kinda of Sci-fi angle, but still these guys show the significant problem they seem to have with their own space craft, in the count of detection and communications, only in a 13 year time span void!
Blind to their own space craft, and in very significant problems with their own technology, not so far away, when space out there considered.
No so heart warming when considering much further to possibly get at, if there any chance there, so far.
Just saying, in a point of perspective!
I think, if there happens to be any intelligent extraterrestrial life trying a message us, I think there will no be any chance of successes unless their info cartridges and tapes posted to us first, with full instructions in how to be used, in a simple “dummy for” format…:)
Hope I will not be much hated for this… 🙂

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  whiten
February 13, 2018 5:47 am

I would like to know how SETI will interpret say, DVBT/ATSC TV type signals from extraterrestrials. Would they even see some useful coding?

Reply to  Rainer Bensch
February 13, 2018 6:09 am

nah it would be reruns of the kardashians or something so….no need to try to interpret it 🙂

Reply to  Rainer Bensch
February 14, 2018 11:45 am

Rainer Bensch
February 13, 2018 at 5:47 am
Only thing I can say, please, do not ever gamble, even when considering something like SETI…Really good and very tempting,.. but as far as I can tell no any better than Nay or Mann, when at it…
Please do consider that it is only an argument, as far as it permits…SETI is just SETI, no more, no less… Run bye Nyes and Manns…no any better, when at that.!

February 12, 2018 1:18 pm

Missing from this post: The text of the original email from Tilley to Burch. That’s something I’d like to see!

February 12, 2018 4:14 pm

That is/was fantastic

February 12, 2018 6:01 pm

The Wife made him send an email.

Dr. Strangelove
February 13, 2018 3:23 am

Some amazing things discovered or invented by amateurs:
Gravity, laws of motion – Newton was a 23-yr old farm boy though he studied math at Cambridge U
Lightning rod – Benjamin Franklin was a science hobbyist
Combustion, conservation of mass – Lavoisier’s hobby was chemistry
Planet Uranus – Hershel was a musician and amateur astronomer
Group theory – Galois was a 19-yr old college student
Conservation of energy (1st law of thermodynamics) – Joule was a brewer not a professional scientist
Maxwell’s equations (in modern form), vector analysis – Heaviside was a self-taught mathematician
Fundamentals of rocketry – Tsiolkovsky was a recluse who did scientific research in his home
Airplane – Wright bros. were bicycle makers tinkering with flying machines
Special theory of relativity, photoelectric effect – Einstein was a 26-yr old clerk but he had a degree in physics
Continental drift (precursor to plate tectonics) – Wegener was a meteorologist dabbling in geology
Electronic TV – conceptualized by 14-yr old Farnsworth, independently of other inventors
Computer – Zuse was a civil engineer tinkering with computing machines in 1930s
I would say amateurs are just as good as professionals

Poor Richard, retrocrank
February 13, 2018 3:33 am

Excellent story, well written. I can’t wait to read the follow-up.

February 13, 2018 6:07 am

that was pretty cool to read. honestly they all did a lot in a relatively short time.

February 13, 2018 6:47 am

I hope somebody is working on the screenplay for this already.

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