NASA says its tiny ASTERIA spacecraft has lost contact with Earth

ASTERIA, a tiny satellite launched in April 2017 to help study planets outside of our solar system, has lost contact with its human operators on Earth, according to NASA. The spacecraft was last heard from on December 5; subsequent attempts to contact the briefcase-sized satellite have proven unsuccessful, leaving only weeks before the space agency gives up.

ASTERIA is a CubeSat that was deployed from the International Space Station in order to demonstrate this particular type of technology as suitable for helping find exoplanets. NASA already has larger missions that are monitoring for these planets, the most notable being its TESS surveying satellite.

The ASTERIA CubeSat proved itself capable of taking precise measurements of light from a star, which enabled it to observe several nearby stars. Detecting these changes in brightness is a key part of detecting exoplanets, which orbit between the satellite and the star at times, revealing its presence by blocking the light.

NASA says ASTERIA wrapped up its primary mission objectives last February, resulting in another three extensions to the mission in the months since. Scientists used the spacecraft to test different autonomous CubeSat capabilities and to observe various things, including other spacecraft and Earth.

The space agency will continue to reach out to ASTERIA until March in an effort to restore communications with the satellite. Even if the spacecraft is gone for good, however, NASA says that a replica of its internal hardware located on Earth can still be used for experiments on autonomous CubeSat programs.