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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) (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
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace