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NASA locates lost SOHO satellite

satellite graphic
Artist's rendition of the SOHO satellite  
July 27, 1998
Web posted at: 10:55 p.m. EDT (0255 GMT)

GREENBELT, Maryland (CNN) -- The lost SOHO spacecraft, which disappeared while observing the sun, has been found spinning slowly and helplessly in space, astronomers said Monday.

NASA astronomers said they located the crippled satellite using radio telescopes based in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

SOHO stands for Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a $1 billion joint project by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The satellite was launched in 1995 to study the sun from an area known as the L-1 position, about 1 million miles from Earth, between the Earth and sun.

But SOHO mission controllers lost contact with the satellite on June 24 and so far have been unable to re-establish communications.

A preliminary report issued by NASA earlier this month concluded that software glitches in the command and control computer system caused SOHO to spin out of control.

As the satellite moved out of alignment with the sun, its solar panels could not longer supply electricity to the communications equipment. SOHO's antennas were also no longer angled toward Earth.

The new data confirm what mission controllers had hoped -- the spacecraft is still near its original position in space and is rotating slowly, at a rate of one revolution per minute.

Mission controllers say they will continue to try to contact SOHO in the coming weeks and months in hopes that it will eventually spin back into proper alignment with the sun on its own.

If that happens, it is possible that communications could be re-established. If the spacecraft is not otherwise damaged, solar observations could resume, as scheduled, until 2003.

During its time in space, SOHO has recorded two comets plunging into the sun, huge solar tornadoes and a magnetic "carpet" on the sun's surface. SOHO has also helped scientists predict solar storms -- waves of electromagnetic energy that disrupt satellites and power stations on earth.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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