Japan gives up on Hitomi black hole and X-ray astronomy spacecraft

The Hitomi (Astro-H) X-ray satellite(Credit: JAXA)

Japan's black hole-spotting x-ray astronomy satellite ASTRO-H or "Hitomi" is officially dead after a month of uncertainty. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) lost contact with Hitomi late last month and on Thursday the agency announced that it's officially calling it quits and giving up on trying to get the craft operational again.

Hitomi launched in February and began observations the following month, but after just the first few days, it began spinning out of control. This was followed by a report from the US Joint Space Operations Center, which tracks man-made objects in orbit, that initially identified five pieces of the spacecraft that had broken off from Hitomi.

After weeks of trying to re-establish consistent communication with the craft and troubleshooting the problem, the agency has announced " it is highly likely that both solar array paddles had broken off at their bases where they are vulnerable to rotation."

Over the past month, JAXA believed it was receiving signals from Hitomi on at least three occasions, but now says it has concluded that those signals were actually coming from another source due to differences in frequencies.

JAXA says other agencies provided data that also indicate the solar array paddles, which help power the craft, have broken off of it, leading JAXA to conclude this is the end of the line for Hitomi and that it can not be restored.

Some reports say the death spin that led to the breakup of Hitomi may have been caused or exacerbated by an engineering error in the form of an errant command sent to the craft from mission control, but JAXA will continue to investigate possible causes of the craft's demise.

Hitomi was built with development help from NASA and other space agencies. The space observatory carried four X-ray telescopes and two gamma-ray detectors designed to look for clues to the origins of the universe and its most mysterious objects, like black holes.

Sources: JAXA, Nature

Top stories

Recommended for you

Latest in Space

Editors Choice