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Japan loses its satellite

Japanese satellite, Astro H or the ultra high tech Hitomi got destroyed after it disintegrated in orbit, torn apart when spinning out of con...

Japanese satellite, Astro H or the ultra high tech Hitomi got destroyed after it disintegrated in orbit, torn apart when spinning out of control.

Hitomi was supposedly communicating well with the Earth team but the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said that they lost contact on March 26 after a series of attitude control failures caused the satellite spin up and shed critical segments of its solar panels.

At first, it made ground contact but then disappeared and never got in touch since then.

Though investigation is going on in the matter but preliminary analysis points towards poor data in software package which was pushed shortly after an instrument probe was extended from the rear of the satellite.

The Japanese space agency, JAXA not only lost USD 286 million but also three years of planned observations and around 10 years of scientific research.

Space scientists desperately worked to recover the satellite not knowing the extent of the failure. The space agency had assigned 40 technicians to conclude the case and locate the spacecraft. But later on April 28 it ceased efforts to rescue the satellite which was launched two months before.

"JAXA has also received information from several overseas organizations that indicated the separation of the two solar array paddles from Astro-H,” the agency said in a statement. “Considering this information, we have determined that we cannot restore the Astro-H’s functions,” added the agency.
JAXA is now working to determine the reasons for the failure.

On March 26th, the satellite completed a maneuver to point at the galaxy Markarian 205. The Attitude Control System (ACS) began using the Star Tracking (STT) system data to control the position of the satellite. The STT at this point should have updated another position monitoring system, the Inertial Reference Unit (IRU). This may not have occurred.

Hitomi was passing through south Atlantic anomaly at this time and the belts of radiation encircling the Earth dip low in this region so particle density is higher than in other parts of the orbit. High energy particles may have disrupted the onboard electronics.

The satellite was placed in a communications blackout region which barred active ground monitoring of the situation. If human intervention would have been there, the catastrophic failure could have been prevented.
Hitomi was successfully launched on February 17, 2016 on a mission designed to last at least three years.
JAXA collaborated along with NASA with an aim to study black holes and giant galactic clusters, the largest structures in the universe.

Hitomi carried a suite of instruments sensitive to a wide range of energies on the electromagnetic spectrum, from soft X-rays around 300 electron volts to soft gamma rays up to 600,000 electron volts. For comparison, visible light photons are measured around 2 or 3 electron volts.

Such high-energy light beams do not penetrate Earth’s atmosphere which means the X-ray universe is only observable by sending a satellite into orbit. X-ray telescopes allow observations of black holes, which form in the aftermath of violent supernova explosions, and large-scale structures of the universe.

Hitomi carried a NASA-developed X-ray spectrometer to measure the composition and velocity of super-heated matter surround black holes. Astronomers expected the detector to send back data about the complicated environment around the compact skeletons of stars.

NASA had earlier collaborated with Japan to launch the instrument on an X-ray observatory in 2000, but that mission was lost in a launch mishap. Japan’s follow-up X-ray telescope launched with a replacement NASA-built spectrometer in 2005, but the sensor failed before collecting science data.

The science team behind micro calorimeter technology now has to contend with another failure.


It is still impossible for humans to directly observe black holes, but some theories say that they are huge stars which collapsed producing enormous gravitational pull too strong to escape from.

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