While DSCOVR's primary mission is monitoring the solar wind, its EPIC instrument provides full-disk views of the Earth, sometimes capturing the moon as it passes between the Earth and the spacecraft. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — A space weather and Earth observation satellite that has been offline for more than three months could be restored to normal operations with new software, but that fix is not expected to be completed until early next year.

In a Sept. 30 statement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that it has been working with NASA and an unnamed company on a “software fix” to restore the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, which went into a “safehold” June 27.

Those efforts, the agency said, are making progress, but it doesn’t expect DSCOVR to resume operations soon. “Engineers report that intermediate test results of the software fix have been positive and they expect it to be incorporated during the first quarter of calendar year 2020,” NOAA said in its statement.

What caused the spacecraft to go into a safe mode, interrupting observations, isn’t clear. The NOAA statement referred to “an earlier performance issue” with the spacecraft but provided no further details. A NOAA spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions Sept. 30 about the problem.

NOAA uses DSCOVR to monitor space weather conditions from its perch at the Earth-sun L-1 Lagrange point, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in the direction of the sun. NOAA says that it continues to receive space weather data from other spacecraft in the absence of DSCOVR, including the aging Advanced Composition Explorer and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft. NOAA weather satellites in geostationary orbit are also equipped with space weather sensors.

DSCOVR is best known for its secondary payload, the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), which returns full-disk images of the Earth that are used for global monitoring of atmospheric ozone and aerosols, as well as clouds and vegetation.

EPIC dates back to the original mission for DSCOVR more than 20 years ago. NASA proposed the mission, then called Triana, at the request of Vice President Al Gore to provide that full view of the Earth. The mission was put on hold early in the administration of President George W. Bush, with the spacecraft put into storage. The Obama administration resurrected the mission under the DSCOVR name and with a new emphasis on space weather monitoring.

The Trump administration proposed terminating EPIC operations. Its NASA budget requests for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 included no funding for EPIC, proposals that did not affect the overall DSCOVR mission, funded by NOAA. Congress rejected those proposals, explicitly including funding for DSCOVR operations in their final appropriations bills. The fiscal year 2020 NASA budget proposal did request $1.7 million for EPIC operations.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...