B.C. space sleuth discovers NASA satellite not a ‘piece of space junk’

A signal led Scott Tilley of the Sunshine Coast to discover a satellite called IMAGE

An amateur astronomer in British Columbia has made a discovery that has gained the attention of NASA.

Scott Tilley, a 47-year-old electrical technologist, sneaks time away from his family when he can to search for spy satellites by using radio frequency signals and a contraption of remote control cameras and antennas on the roof of his Roberts Creek home on the Sunshine Coast.

He was sleuthing through space on Jan. 20 when he found something unusual.

A signal led him to discover a satellite called IMAGE, or Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration.

NASA launched the science probe in 2000 to image the Earth’s magnetosphere and produce images of plasma populations. But contact with the probe was lost in 2005 and the mission was abandoned in 2007.

“Everybody thought it was dead,” explains Tilley. ”It was no longer talking anymore and it was just a piece of space junk.”

He says the signal he found showed the satellite was alive. And it was sending data.

READ MORE: NASA to launch first mission to the sun in 2018

READ MORE: New image of B.C. smoke from space taken today

With the help of friend and fellow astronomer Cees Bassa, Tilley calculated that IMAGE had been trying to call home for more than a year. But its messages were lost among the din of other chattering satellites.

Tilley was thrilled about the finding and wrote about it on his blog and on Twitter. He even sent NASA a message but got no reply.

It wasn’t until a few days later, when he reached out to a scientist who had developed IMAGE, when the frenzy erupted.

“I had dozens of emails from all the different researchers and people who were involved in IMAGE and they were all very excited,” says Tilley.

Then he heard from a mission director at NASA and gladly shared his information.

A news release on NASA’s website this week confirmed that IMAGE was found by an unnamed astronomer. “The NASA team has been able to read some basic housekeeping data from the spacecraft, suggesting that at least the main control system is operational,” it said.

Scientists and engineers from the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland are to analyze its data over the next two weeks, NASA added, but the satellite’s age poses a problem.

“The types of hardware and operating systems used in the IMAGE Mission Operations Center no longer exist, and other systems have been updated several versions beyond what they were at the time, requiring significant reverse-engineering.”

The discovery has also been mentioned in Science magazine.

Tilley says he hasn’t been offered a job with NASA — even though he’d jump at the chance. But he is happy knowing that NASA would collaborate with a Canadian who has been searching space since he was a kid by fiddling with his father’s short-wave radio.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that these very talented people doing an amazing job for all of us would be open-minded enough to listen to somebody just out of the noise.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Twitter feed prays for — instead of preying on — B.C. MLAs

Non-partisan Christian group wants to support politicians through personalized prayer

Run for wounded soldiers, first responders stops in Qualicum Beach

Run started Feb. 19 in Port Hardy to conclude in Victoria Sunday, Feb. 25

Adopted pet pig gets killed and eaten

Animal was adopted out by SPCA staff in the Cowichan Valley

Bucs take 2-0 series lead against the Generals

Game 3 will be played at Oceanside Place at 7 p.m.

Local running club wants track to be upgraded

President asks RDN to find a way to make improvements now instead of later

Therapy dogs make appearance at B.C. Games

The St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog program launches a pilot project at the 2018 Kamloops B.C. Winter Games

BCHL Today: Cowichan Caps play spoiler and Nanaimo wins 10th straight game

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Federal budget to unveil incentive for 5-week second parent leave: official

Goal behind the measure is to give parents more incentive to share child-rearing responsibilities

Notley says Alberta watching B.C. court bid closely, will get no free ride on it

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley ended the three-week ban on B.C. wine, calming the trade war

Trudeau ends troubled India trip in his comfort zone of hockey and youth

The players, 18-25, came to New Delhi from Ladakhi in northern India, as part of outreach program

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Kim Boutin named Canada’s flag bearer for closing ceremony

Two more medals for Canada, including the bronze in men’s hockey

Team Canada’s Dave Duncan apologizes after drunken joyride in Pyeongchang

Duncan, his wife Maja and Canadian technical coach William Raine detained by South Korean police

Czechmate: Canada wins men’s Olympic hockey bronze

Vernon’s Andrew Ebbett scores twice as Canada beats Czech Republic 6-4

Canucks fold 6-3 in first ever trip to Vegas

Daniel Sedin had two points as Canucks fall to the Golden Knights Friday night

Most Read