Tokyo – The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on Thursday that it had given up on fixing the operations of the Hitomi satellite. This decision represents the end of the $273-million mission tasked to study the mysterious black holes by using X-ray telescopes. The agency determined that the satellite’s two solar arrays had probably broken off at their bases and abandoned its efforts.
Scientists lost contact with the 15-meter satellite on March 26, five weeks after its successful launch from southern Japan on Feb. 17, according to a report by The Washington Post.
Officially named ASTRO-H, Hitomi was much larger than previous JAXA satellites and was designed to study X-rays emitted by the never-before-seen black holes. Because these X-rays are blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere, they cannot be detected on our world.
A series of tragic events led JAXA to abandon its most powerful X-ray observatory
JAXA engineers unsuccessfully tried to regain control of the X-ray observatory and the agency was forced to declare Hitomi dead in space. Nature reported that a basic human error could have triggered a series of negative events for the satellite. As Hitomi passed the South Atlantic Anomaly, a South American region exposing satellites to extra amounts of radiation, one of the systems on the ASTRO-H designed to keep it facing the right direction went out of control.
The X-ray observatory was forced to rely on its gyroscopes to stay in the right direction, but these gyroscopes were not working right either. All that combined led Hitomi to a wild spinning and even fire a thruster as it attempted to regain control. The failed effort caused the satellite to spin even faster as it was fired in the wrong direction.
Hitomi’s solar panels on both of its sides broke away at the bases and led to observable debris, an unfortunate event that destroyed one of its main sources of power.
JAXA is now conducting an investigation to find out the causes of the satellite’s malfunctioning, reviewing all the phases involved from manufacturing to operations.
“JAXA also would like to take this opportunity to send our profound appreciation to all overseas and domestic organizations for all of their help in confirming the status of ASTRO-H through ground-based observations and other means,” the agency expressed in a statement.
The ASTRO-H was developed in collaboration with NASA and other organizations. The European Space Agency is planning to launch a similar satellite in 2018 aimed at studying the evidence of black holes, an intriguing phenomenon that has never been directly observed before.
Source: Washington Post