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The DSCOVR Earth and space weather satellite is back online after a months-long glitch

DSCOVR had a prime view of a total solar eclipse that crossed the Pacific Ocean in 2016.
DSCOVR had a prime view of a total solar eclipse that crossed the Pacific Ocean in 2016. (Image credit: NASA image courtesy of the DSCOVR EPIC team)

A disabled satellite that tracks space weather is back online after nine months of efforts to get it communicating with Earth, according to a U.S. government update.

The nearly five-year-old Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) went into a safe mode lockdown on June 27, 2019, due to issues with the attitude control system that keeps it properly oriented in space to receive commands and send data. 

Engineers at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) created a flight software patch and uploaded it recently to the satellite, NOAA officials said Monday (March 2). This allowed DISCOVR to resume its observations of space weather, or the area in Earth's vicinity affected by the sun's variability.  

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Media reports in October hinted such a fix was coming early in 2020, but did not give any information on why it took several months to implement the correction.

Since the sun regularly sends charged particles towards our planet, monitoring its activity is crucial to protecting satellites and other infrastructure vulnerable to the periodic "solar storms" the sun emits, when during times of high activity it sends coronal mass ejections of particles towards Earth. 

While a backup satellite (NASA's Advanced Composition Explorer) was used to keep space weather updates flowing, and there are many other satellites monitoring the sun, a senior official at NOAA said he was pleased that DSCOVR is contributing once again to the fleet.

"Bringing DSCOVR operational again shows the unique skills and adaptability of our ... engineers, and the care we are taking to get the maximum life from an aging asset," Steve Volz, assistant NOAA administrator for its satellite and information service, said in the statement.

DSCOVR orbits at a Lagrange point —  a relatively stable "parking spot" in space
between the Earth and the sun, allowing the spacecraft to obtain spectacular full-disc views of our planet. The spacecraft is designed for five years, but engineers typically try to squeeze more life out of older missions to save on the cost and complication of launching replacements.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.