B.C. space sleuth discovers NASA satellite not a ‘piece of space junk’

A signal led Scott Tilley of the Sunshine Coast to discover a satellite called IMAGE

An amateur astronomer in British Columbia has made a discovery that has gained the attention of NASA.

Scott Tilley, a 47-year-old electrical technologist, sneaks time away from his family when he can to search for spy satellites by using radio frequency signals and a contraption of remote control cameras and antennas on the roof of his Roberts Creek home on the Sunshine Coast.

He was sleuthing through space on Jan. 20 when he found something unusual.

A signal led him to discover a satellite called IMAGE, or Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration.

NASA launched the science probe in 2000 to image the Earth’s magnetosphere and produce images of plasma populations. But contact with the probe was lost in 2005 and the mission was abandoned in 2007.

“Everybody thought it was dead,” explains Tilley. ”It was no longer talking anymore and it was just a piece of space junk.”

He says the signal he found showed the satellite was alive. And it was sending data.

READ MORE: NASA to launch first mission to the sun in 2018

READ MORE: New image of B.C. smoke from space taken today

With the help of friend and fellow astronomer Cees Bassa, Tilley calculated that IMAGE had been trying to call home for more than a year. But its messages were lost among the din of other chattering satellites.

Tilley was thrilled about the finding and wrote about it on his blog and on Twitter. He even sent NASA a message but got no reply.

It wasn’t until a few days later, when he reached out to a scientist who had developed IMAGE, when the frenzy erupted.

“I had dozens of emails from all the different researchers and people who were involved in IMAGE and they were all very excited,” says Tilley.

Then he heard from a mission director at NASA and gladly shared his information.

A news release on NASA’s website this week confirmed that IMAGE was found by an unnamed astronomer. “The NASA team has been able to read some basic housekeeping data from the spacecraft, suggesting that at least the main control system is operational,” it said.

Scientists and engineers from the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland are to analyze its data over the next two weeks, NASA added, but the satellite’s age poses a problem.

“The types of hardware and operating systems used in the IMAGE Mission Operations Center no longer exist, and other systems have been updated several versions beyond what they were at the time, requiring significant reverse-engineering.”

The discovery has also been mentioned in Science magazine.

Tilley says he hasn’t been offered a job with NASA — even though he’d jump at the chance. But he is happy knowing that NASA would collaborate with a Canadian who has been searching space since he was a kid by fiddling with his father’s short-wave radio.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that these very talented people doing an amazing job for all of us would be open-minded enough to listen to somebody just out of the noise.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Third suspicious package sent to Langford law firm

Hazmat procedures and RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit deployed at Hemminger Law Group again

Homeless campers near Saanich municipal hall to move today

Tenters plan to move within Saanich, push bylaws

Environmental all-candidates forum includes all running in the CRD

Issues addressed will include climate change, tanker traffic and resident killer whales

North Saanich residents commended for bravery in crash response

Six residents did not hesitate after serious single-vehicle crash

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

B.C. has only one bricks-and-mortar marijuana store

VIDEO: How to roll a joint

The cannabis connoisseur shares his secrets to rolling the perfect joint

Advance voting begins Oct. 10 in Greater Victoria

The polls open at 8 a.m. for the 2018 municipal election with the general election taking place Oct. 20

Find your future at Black Press career fair in Victoria

More than 70 booths expected at Bay Street Armoury on Oct. 25

Canada ban on asbestos takes effect but mining residues are exempt

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna plans to announce the new regulations implementing the ban on Thursday in Ottawa

1,000 needles pulled from Cowichan River

Duncan area cleanup project nets three huge truckloads of garbage

Harry and Meghan bring rain to drought-stricken Outback town

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are on day two of their 16-day tour of Australia and the South Pacific.

Demand for legalized cannabis in early hours draws lineups, heavy web traffic

Government-run and privately operated sales portals went live at 12:01 a.m. local time across Canada, eliciting a wave of demand.

Killer-rapist Paul Bernardo set to make parole pitch today

Paul Bernardo, whose very name became synonymous with sadistic sexual perversion, is expected to plead for release on Wednesday.

Hero campaign raises $1.1 million for Canada non-profits

Lowe’s Canada Heroes campaign was held throughout September

Most Read