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NASA's IBEX spacecraft not responding to commands after computer glitch

NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft was launched in 2008 to study the outer edge of the heliosphere. The spacecraft has been in operation for almost 15 years, mapping the entire sky every six months and making numerous groundbreaking discoveries. However, on February 18, 2023, IBEX experienced a flight computer reset, and since then, flight controllers have been unsuccessful in regaining command capability. This article discusses the mission of IBEX, its significant contributions to space exploration, and the current status of the spacecraft.

The Mission of IBEX: Exploring the Outer Edge of the Heliosphere

IBEX is an unmanned spacecraft designed to study the outer boundary of our solar system, known as the heliosphere. The heliosphere is a bubble-like region created by the solar wind, a constant stream of particles emitted by the Sun. The outer boundary of the heliosphere is where the solar wind meets the interstellar medium, the space between stars. This region is critical to understanding how the solar wind interacts with the interstellar medium and how it affects our space environment.

The primary mission of IBEX is to discover the global interaction between plasma from the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the boundary region of the solar system. The spacecraft uses two instruments, the IBEX-Hi and IBEX-Lo sensors, to map the distribution of neutral particles, such as hydrogen and helium, that exist at the boundary of the heliosphere.

IBEX Discoveries: The IBEX Ribbon and More

IBEX has made significant contributions to space exploration since its launch. In 2009, just one year after its launch, the spacecraft made its first map of the heliosphere, which revealed never-before-seen structures at the boundary of our solar system. IBEX discovered a dense region of particles, nicknamed the "IBEX ribbon," that extends across the sky in a mysterious and intriguing way.

The ribbon occurs as neutral hydrogen atoms carried in the solar wind interact with the magnetic field of the Milky Way. The interactions create vibrations or waves in the field, and the ions are constrained in ribbon-like shapes. Scientists are studying this phenomenon to learn more about the heliosphere and the interstellar medium.

IBEX has also provided insights into the interactions between the solar wind and the local interstellar medium. The spacecraft has detected the presence of interstellar dust particles in the outer solar system, which provides important clues to the composition of the interstellar medium and the evolution of our solar system.

IBEX Contingency: The Current Status of the Spacecraft

On February 18, 2023, IBEX experienced a flight computer reset, which caused flight controllers to lose command capability. Despite resetting hardware and software on the ground, the mission team has been unable to regain command capability. The flight software is still running, and the spacecraft systems appear to be functional, but commands are not processing aboard IBEX.

NASA officials noted that IBEX is already programmed to reset itself and restart its power on March 4, 2023. If the mission team is unable to solve the problem, the reset will provide a backup. NASA will provide additional information on IBEX following the reset unless the agency finds a solution before.

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