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Tuesday, September 8, 1998 Published at 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK


Soho coming under control

The sun's turbulent surface

Scientists are winning the race against time to regain control of the Soho sun observation satellite. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports.

Contact with Soho was lost on June 25 after ground controllers accidentally sent commands to the spacecraft that put it into a spin, pointing it away from the sun and resulting in a total loss of power.

With no sunlight falling on the solar panels the 12 instruments aboard Soho experienced extremes in temperatures from -100 to +100C, and the spacecraft fuel froze solid.

The only hope was that the spacecraft's spin would slowly bring the solar panels back towards the Sun, allowing the batteries to recharge.

[ image: Soho: coming back to life]
Soho: coming back to life
Radio signals from Soho were detected on August 5th. Since then relieved scientists and engineers have taken a month to power the spacecraft's batteries and thaw out its fuel tanks.

With that done, the thruster rockets can be fired and Soho put back into position facing the sun.

'This is one of the most dramatic deep space rescues ever attempted, and I'm delighted to say it looks to be going exactly to plan,' said Dr Richard Harrison from Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, England.

'What Soho had already told us had revolutionised our way of thinking about the sun, and this extra lease of life will hopefully take us a few more steps down the road towards understanding the workings of our star, which ultimately supports all life on Earth.'

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