NASA's IBEX spacecraft bounces back from glitch to study edge of solar system

Artist's conception of the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft next to Earth on the right and the boundary of the heliosphere on the right (represented by a bubble of gas).
Artist's conception of the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft next to Earth on the right and the boundary of the heliosphere on the right (represented by a bubble of gas). (Image credit: NASA)

A NASA spacecraft is back to normal after weeks of troubles in space.

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) allowed controllers to reset the computer on March 2, agency officials said on Monday (March 6), ending three weeks of issues in trying to reach the spacecraft.

The mission team did a "firecode reset," or external reset of the spacecraft, allowing controllers to regain control of the unresponsive spacecraft two full days before IBEX was scheduled to do an autonomous reset and power cycle on Saturday (March 4.)

All is back to normal now, agency officials added. "IBEX telemetry shows that the spacecraft is fully operational and functioning normally."

Related: Mysterious energy ribbon at solar system's edge a 'cosmic roadmap' 

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer launched in October 2008 to study the outer edge of the heliosphere, focusing on the "bubble" that represents the boundary between the sun's environment and interstellar space.

The spacecraft fully mapped the heliosphere in its first year after launch and gets entire-sky images every six months. Its most famous discovery is uncovering a dense region of particles, nicknamed the "IBEX ribbon."

The agency first announced issues in "regaining command capability" in late February, but emphasized the spacecraft itself was healthy despite its computer resetting unexpectedly and placing IBEX into contingency mode. "Flight software still is running, and the spacecraft systems appear to be functional," NASA officials said in a Feb. 24 update.

IBEX forms part of a network of spacecraft studying the solar wind (or constant stream of particles from our sun) alongside the sun itself to gain a better understanding of how the heliosphere shapes our solar system. 

The spacecraft has spent 15 years in space, continuing work more than a decade past when its prime mission ended in 2011.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, 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 a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: