Japan: Trouble reaching innovative new space satellite

March 28, 2016
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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5 comments

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big_hairy_jimbo
2 / 5 (4) Mar 28, 2016
WTF "I know enough about how the sausage was made"??? Sausage???? I guess I'm missing something here????
Nik_2213
4.8 / 5 (4) Mar 28, 2016
Hey, this is Rocket Science !! If it was easy, we'd holiday on Mars...
antigoracle
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 28, 2016
"Everyone's just gutted," said McDowell, ... I know enough about how the sausage was made to know that this could have easily have happened to us."

Sure sounds like he likes his sausage. Talk about saying too much, without saying anything.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2016
WTF "I know enough about how the sausage was made"??? Sausage???? I guess I'm missing something here????
Guess you never heard that the one thing you never want to do if you're going to eat sausage is visit the sausage factory.
FineStructureConstant
5 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2016
How about this one:
There's two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make 'em: laws and sausages.
Because in both cases, it's an extremely messy process to arrive at the final product.

One can easily imagine that the whole process of designing, building, launching and operating a space observatory is a similarly complicated, not to say messy, process. So, sausages and spacecraft...

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