15-Year-Old NASA Probe Back in Action After Systems Reset

The IBEX spacecraft, in space since 2008, stopped responding to commands last month, requiring the reset.

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An artist’s depiction of the IBEX spacecraft.
An artist’s depiction of the IBEX spacecraft.
Illustration: NASA

Most computer glitches can be resolved with a simple question, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” It seems this simple instruction also applies to computers on board spacecraft orbiting thousands of miles away.

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) is finally up and running again after spending three weeks in contingency mode, also known as safe mode, the space agency announced in a blog post on Monday. The team behind the mission performed an external reset of IBEX on March 2 when the spacecraft was at its closest point to Earth.

On February 18, the spacecraft, which is about the size of a bus tire, stopped responding to commands following a flight computer reset. “While fight computer resets have happened before, this time the team lost the ability to command the spacecraft during the subsequent reset recovery,” NASA wrote at the time. “Uplink signals are reaching the spacecraft, commands are not processing.”


The team tried resetting the mission’s hardware and software from the ground, but IBEX remained unresponsive. The spacecraft, working in a high Earth orbit, was scheduled for an autonomous reset and power cycle on March 4, but the team went ahead with a firecode reset, another term for an external reset, two days prior to take advantage of “a favorable communications environment around IBEX’s perigee,” according to NASA.

Following the firecode reset, the spacecraft’s ability to receive commands was fully restored and IBEX now appears to be fully operational.


The mission launched in 2008 with a unique task to map the edge of the Solar System, observing the interaction between the solar wind emitted by the Sun and interplanetary space. Data collected by IBEX has helped scientists measure changes in the heliosphere, the bubble generated by the Sun’s magnetic field, over the star’s 11-year-cycle. Now that IBEX has been reset and all is back to normal, we can keep learning about our host star and how it influences its surrounding environment.

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