JAXA Is "Very Sorry" They'll Never Get the Hitomi Satellite Back

Thursday, 28 April 2016 - 2:26PM
Astronomy
Black Holes
Thursday, 28 April 2016 - 2:26PM
JAXA Is "Very Sorry" They'll Never Get the Hitomi Satellite Back
Japan's satellite Hitomi has been lost in space for over a month, but until now, JAXA has been expending every effort to get the satellite back and resume operations. But today, the space agency finally admitted defeat, and acknowledged that it was time to give up on getting the space probe back.

Hitomi was developed for $365 million by JAXA, in conjunction with NASA, in order to study black holes and the origin of the known universe. But after only a month in space, Hitomi failed to make contact with JAXA for a scheduled check-in, and it's been lost ever since. When debris was observed around the satellite, there were fears that the probe had broken apart, but since JAXA was still receiving short, intermittent messages from Hitomi, they thought it might still be salvageable.

But today, JAXA director Dr. Saku Tsumeta said at a press conference (via The ABC) that JAXA had made every effort to re-establish contact, but it's time to admit that Hitomi is lost. Tsumeta said "We feel very sorry about it," and JAXA released a very sad and apologetic statement:

Opening quote
"JAXA expresses the deepest regret for the fact that we had to discontinue the operations of ASTRO-H and extends our most sincere apologies to everyone who has supported ASTRO-H believing in the excellent results ASTRO-H would bring, to all overseas and domestic partners including NASA, and to all foreign and Japanese astrophysicists who were planning to use the observational results from ASTRO-H for their studies."
Closing quote

As it turns out, Hitomi lost contact when its solar arrays broke off at their bases, causing the satellite to spin off of its planned trajectory. JAXA also concluded that those cryptic messages weren't actually from Hitomi at all; judging from the fact that they came from different frequencies, were probably just intercepted radio signals. 

This is a very sad day for space exploration, as Japan clearly had high hopes for Hitomi, and won't have the means to replace it for another 12 years. There's no official word on why the solar arrays broke off, although Tsumeta confirmed that it was human error:

Opening quote
"There was a human error, but in a critical system like this we have to imagine that humans do make errors," he said. "So rather than thinking of this as an error of a human, we believe that there's a problem in the system."
Closing quote

Via Gizmodo

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