Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Japan Gives Up on Fixing Lost Satellite Hitomi

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Japan Gives Up on Fixing Lost Satellite Hitomi

Article excerpt

Efforts to restore Hitomi, the nearly $290 million X-ray astronomy satellite, are no more.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the decision Thursday, saying that the spacecraft is too severely damaged to be revived.

The spacecraft, designed to study X-rays emitted by black holes, dark matter, and galaxy clusters in space, was Japan's latest attempt in space exploration after two other failed attempts. Hitomi - which is Japanese for "pupil," as in part of the eye - operated for a few weeks, but only yielded three days' worth of data.

Misfortune struck on March 26 when JAXA lost contact with the spacecraft, more than a month after it was launched from southern Japan on Feb. 17. Initially the agency was optimistic about restoring the spacecraft's operations, after receiving static signals on three occasions. Scientists originally believed the signals were from the lost satellite, but later concluded that the messages appeared to come from slightly different frequencies.

"JAXA will cease the efforts to restore ASTRO-H and will focus on the investigation of anomaly causes," the agency said in a statement. "We will carefully review all phases from design, manufacturing, verification, and operations to identify the causes that may have led to this anomaly including background factors."

The cause of the damage is still unknown, but JAXA concluded that it might have been triggered by incorrect programming that cased the satellite to accelerate its spinning. That spinning likely caused its solar panels to snap off, preventing the spacecraft from generating power.

"There were human errors," Saku Tsuneta, director of JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, told reporters during a press conference, according to the International Business Times. "But a bigger problem lies with our entire system as we were not able to detect those errors. …

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