ICE/ISEE-3 Reboot Project




ICE/ISEE-3 spacecraft received in Bochum March 1st and 2nd, 2014 radio amateurs were able to detect the beacon signal from the retired NASA deep space probe ICE (International Cometary Explorer) at the Bochum Observatory (Germany). After some changes to the ground equipment and aligning the receive antenna to the predicted position in the sky, the beacon signal could positively be identified due to its frequency, the position in the sky and the frequency shift due to the radial velocity (Doppler shift).

For this detection the 20m radio telescope from the Bochum Observatory was used. In 2003, AMSAT-DL converted this former industrial monument into a fully functional groundstation for deep space probes. Since 2009 the facility is being used by volunteers almost full time as ground receive station for data from the STEREO mission with its two spaceprobes monitoring the sun from different viewing angles.

The International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) was launched in 1978 and became the first spacecraft to orbit the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point, measuring the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and the Sun. It was the first spacecraft to detect the stream of particles (“solar wind”) approaching Earth. In 1982, the spacecraft was renamed the “International Cometary Explorer” (ICE) and diverted to the Moon, where its gravitational pull placed ICE on a heliocentric orbit. In 1985, the comet Giacobini-Zinner was visited (the first time a comet had been encountered by a spacecraft), followed by observation of Halley’s Comet in 1986. While the instrumentation on board was still functional and fuel for more trajectory maneuvers was available, support for the ICE mission was terminated in 1997, though the spacecraft transmitter was left on. It was last detected by the NASA Deep Space Network in 2008. Its orbit however results in the spacecraft returning to Earth-Moon space in August of 2014. A small propulsive maneuver and lunar flyby could allow ICE to be directed into an Earth-Sun L1 halo orbit and perhaps resume a science mission, depending on instrument health. However in February 2014 a NASA study determined that the required resources to contact the spacecraft were not available anymore and due to budgetary constraints no further contact attempts were planned. In light of the recent observations and the available facilities in Bochum, additional studies about the economic feasibility to add a suitable uplink are being done.

We would like to thank Jeremy Bauman from KinetX Aerospace (Tempe AZ, USA) for providing the ICE trajectory solution which was essential in finding the spacecraft and Jon D. Giorgini from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena CA, USA) for his support.

ISEE-3/ICE spacecraft signal spectrum, made on 2014 Mar 02 [Sun] 1822 utc from 20m diameter antenna of Bochum Observatory, N. Germany Range 43M km, azimuth 230°, elevation 49°. Average of 2 spectra spanning 2.1 seconds. With a bin bandwidth of 1.6 Hz, the SNR of 15.8 dB equates to a CNR of 17.8 dB. Indicated frequency is relative to the programmed center frequency of 2217.5 MHz of the measurement equipment.

AMSAT-DL and Bochum observatory succeed in receiving ICE/ISEE-3

On March 1st/2nd 2014, a team of radio amateurs succeeded in receiving the beacon from the ICE/ISSE-3 spacecraft.

The 20m dish from the Bochum observatory (callsign DK0SB) was used by personnel from AMSAT-DL to detect the unmodulated carrier from ICE/ISEE-3 on 2217.493 MHz (left hand circular polarized) with an estimated signal to noise ratio of 17.8 db (bandwidth 1 Hz). Both the position in the sky and the observed doppler shift closely match the orbital elements given by JPL Horizons.

A more detailed analysis is ongoing, more tracking passes are planned.

This result was made possible by a large team of individuals of Bochum observatory/AMSAT-DL who donate their spare time to the Bochum ground station hard- and software. Special thanks go to James Miller (G3RUH), Mario Lorenz (DL5MLO) and Michael Lengruesser (DD5ER). We would like to thank Jeremy Bauman from KinetX Aerospace (Tempe AZ, USA) for providing the ICE trajectory solution which was essential in finding the spacecraft and Jon D. Giorgini from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena CA, USA) for his support.

Fast facts

Location: Bochum, Germany
Antenna: 20m diameter, G/T 31.2 dB(1/K)
Date: 2014 Mar 02 [Sun]
Time: 1822 UT
Range: 42.8M km
Azimuth: 230°
Elevation: 49°
TX Frequency: 2217.493 MHz LHCP (Doppler corrected)
RX Antenna BW: -3 dB 0.43°, -10 dB 0.71°
Signal Strength: 17.8 dB-Hz (carrier-to-noise ratio in 1 Hz BW)
Estimated EIRP: 10 W (carrier power)
Sidebands: None observed
Receive equipment:
  • 3cm low-noise preamplifier VLNA13 from Sam Jewell, G4DDK (
  • USRP from Ettus Research for data acquisition (

Note to ‘estimated EIRP’: the orientation of the spacecraft and hence the effective antenna gain in direction of earth is unknown. The actual spacecraft EIRP is therefore estimated with some margin for error.

Bob Farquhar SK

Robert W. Farquhar, PhD (1932-2015)

It is with great sadness to inform you that Robert W. Farquhar, former flight director of the ISEE-3 mission passed away on October 18th, 2015.

Bob’s dissertation was key to halo orbits around libration points, which are now used by many science missions. After redirecting the ISEE-3 mission to comet Giacobini-Ziner in 1985 he developed the trajectory with eventually returned ISEE-3 to earth’s vicinity in 2014, where with his assistance an international team successfully regained control of the aging spacecraft.

Our heart goes out to his family and friends and all those who were close to him.



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