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

Royal Victoria Yacht Club sends strong presence to BC Summer Games

Oak Bay athlete Max Chapman competes in sailing this week

Saanich seals history with time capsule

Saanich will re-open time capsule in 2067

Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson set to hit Rock the Shores stage

Other acts include Bahamas, Allen Stone and Bedouin Soundclash

VIDEO: Unique canvas for local artist

Haren Vakil brings joy and smiles to homeowners and passersby

Canadian military gains valuable disaster experience at RIMPAC

Naval, air force and army personnel practise war activities, humanitarian relief

VIDEO: Unique canvas for local artist

Haren Vakil brings joy and smiles to homeowners and passersby

5 things to do this weekend around Victoria

The sounds of summer Rock the Shores returns to the lower fields… Continue reading

Exotic corpse flower begins to emit is putrid scent at Vancouver conservatory

A unique and exotic tropical plant, acclaimed for its size and abhorred for its smell, is blooming at a Vancouver conservatory.

CREA reports June home sales down 10.7% from year ago, but up from May

The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales in June were down 10.7 per cent compared with a year ago.

Tens of thousands give heroes’ welcome to Croatia team

Euphoria gave way to a mixture of disappointment and pride for Croatia fans after their national team lost to France in its first ever World Cup final.

Beacon Hill off to Little League provincials after big win in district final

Victoria team goes 7-0 for the week in Central Saanich, beats host team 10-1 in final

Proposed charges will cost Saanich housing affordability

The head of the association representing home builders in the Greater Victoria… Continue reading

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Most Read