Japan: Trouble reaching innovative new space satellite

Japan: Trouble reaching innovative new space satellite
In this Feb. 17, 2016 photo, an H-2A rocket carrying an X-ray astronomy satellite called "Hitomi", is launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan. Japan's space agency says communication has failed with the newly launched, innovative satellite with X-ray telescopes meant to study black holes and other space mysteries. The agency said in a statement Sunday, March 27, 2016, that since the problem began Saturday afternoon, it hasn't known the condition of the satellite Hitomi. (Kyodo News via AP)

Japan's space agency says communication has failed with a newly launched, innovative satellite with X-ray telescopes meant to study black holes and other space mysteries.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spokeswoman Izumi Yoshizaki said Monday that efforts to restore communication links since the problem began Saturday afternoon have been unsuccessful, and it was investigating what might have happened to the , which is called Hitomi and was launched Feb. 17.

"We are really doing our best," she said by telephone in Tokyo.

She said the agency was looking into a statement from the Joint Space Operations Center, or JSpOC, the U.S. military organization that tracks and identifies objects in space, that Hitomi may have splintered into several pieces.

Whether that had happened or not is unclear, Yoshizaki said.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said he suspected the satellite had suffered an "energetic event," possibly a gas leak or a battery explosion, that sent it tumbling end-over-end. That would mean its antenna isn't pointing where it needs to, which is why the satellite can't communicate with the space agency, he said.

The danger is that in that state, the satellite may not be able to draw the solar energy it needs to its panels and its battery will run down before the can reconnect with the satellite and try to fix it, he said.

"Everyone's just gutted," said McDowell, who works with another high-tech space X-ray telescope, Chandra. "To hear that they've run into this piece of bad luck, it's so very sad. I know enough about how the sausage was made to know that this could have easily have happened to us. Space is very unforgiving."


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