Only a month after the launch of their newest ASTRO-H X-ray telescope, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have reported that contact has been lost with the satellite. Currently, engineers at JAXA are working on reestablishing contact with the telescope but the reason for it going dark is unknown.
The ASTRO-H satellite was launched from Tanegashima Space Centre on the 17th of February and upon successfully achieving orbit, was given the name Hitomi, which means “Eye”. Hitomi seemed to be successfully up and running initially, having passed its system checks and was beginning to deploy equipment. Unfortunately, by the 26th of March, JAXA had reported a communications failure with the satellite, stating only that “While the cause of communication anomaly is under investigation, JAXA received a short signal from the satellite, and is working for recovery.”
“Under this circumstance, JAXA set up emergency headquarters, headed by the President, for recovery and investigation. The headquarters held its first meeting today, inand has been working for recovery and the investigation of the cause.”
According to the US Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), who specialize in tracking large orbital objects, Hitomi broke up partially on the 26th of March, but no further details were given. This could be critical, or simply some of the satellite’s components becoming separated from the main unit.
On the Visual Satellite Observers mailing list, Texan astronomer Paul Maley reported that he had managed to track the telescope a day after contact was lost and recorded that it was spinning in a full rotation every 10 seconds. As the satellite is supposed to be in a stable orbit, this is not a good sign, and the rotation would make the communication array unable to send and receive signals until the orbit is stabilized.
There are a number of possible causes for Hitomi’s current situation, and while none of them are yet confirmed, JAXA is working around the clock to re-establish contact with the telescope and determine the cause of this issue.