Latest in Science

Image credit:

Japan is trying to rescue its tumbling X-ray satellite

Amateur video shows the satellite spinning through space.

0 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save

Japan's JAXA space agency is struggling to figure out what happened to its Astro-H "Hitomi" satellite after it lost contact on Saturday. Radar data from the US Strategic Command's Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) initially showed that several parts may have broken off and JAXA's radar has spied at least one separated piece. Yesterday, scientists received intermittent signals from the craft, showing that it might be at least partially functional. However, amateur video now appears to show the $360 million X-ray telescope-equipped craft tumbling through space.

A video shot by amateur astronomer Paul Maley (below) shows the satellite flickering as it streaks across the field of view. That likely indicates that the satellite is spinning as sunlight flickers off of its solar panels and other reflective surfaces. "The fact that it is rotating with extreme variations in brightness indicates that it is not controlled and that some event caused it to begin its rotation," Maley tells National Geographic.

Speculation about the cause of the problem has ranged from a battery explosion to a gas leak to a collision with debris or a small meteorite. The news is obviously bad for JAXA and its partners, including NASA and the ESA, particularly since Japan lost its previous two Astro X-ray satellites. At this point, JAXA can't even diagnose the craft's state of health from the brief signals it received. However, the pieces that broke off may be insulation or other non-essential parts and JAXA says it's doing "its best to recover communications with Hitomi," and possibly rescue the craft.

Steve should have known that engineering was not for him when he spent most of his time at university monkeying with his 8086 clone PC. Although he graduated, a lifelong obsession of wanting the "solitaire" win animation to go faster had begun. Always seeking a gadget fix, he dabbles in photography, video, 3D-animation, and is a licensed private pilot. He followed l'amour de sa vie from Vancouver, BC to France, and now lives near Paris.
0 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save
Comments

From around the web