Japanese X-ray telescope decays in orbit
The JAXA X-ray Space Telescope was launched into space on February 17, 2016. The launch was successful, the device entered a predetermined orbit, and scientists began to prepare observations.
The ASTRO-H spacecraft was renamed the Hitomi Observatory. The observatory carried on board several telescopes for observing the sky in different x-ray ranges. The preparation of observations included the operation of a cooling system for X-ray detectors.
Learn more from the JAXA video:
On February 27, mission representatives reported that the cooling system had reached a temperature of almost absolute zero and was ready for scientific work.
However, yesterday the Japanese reported that they had lost contact with Hitomi. At first it was suggested that the communication failure was due to problems in the power supply system, but today, the US military space debris surveillance systems have determined that five fragments are moving in orbit at Hitomi's site. It is likely that these are the remains of a satellite, which means that some dramatic event occurred in orbit.
Moreover, on March 26 the orbital characteristics of the device also changed , something drastically slowed down the satellite, that its orbital period was reduced by 4 seconds.
So far, two main versions of what happened can be considered: an explosion on board, such as a fuel tank or battery, or a collision with a piece of space debris.
UPD: Five debris is weak for a serious explosion. If there is a direct collision of comparable-sized devices, then this is thousands of fragments. More or less serious battery explosions, such as those of NOAA 16 , produce several dozen debris. Therefore, it is more likely that ASTRO-H survived a relatively small blow or explosion of airborne equipment, and the connection was lost due to loss of orientation. Perhaps they will try to remove it from the Earth and visually determine the state and size of the debris.
UPD1: Observers Reportthat large fragments are not visible near the apparatus, but it rotates at a frequency of about 6 times per minute. At the same time, JAXA reported that it was able to catch several signals. Probably, the telescope as a whole survived after the event, but is in an uncontrolled rotation, and does not respond to requests from the Earth.
UPD2: ASTRO-H Flight Video. Changes in the brightness of the gloss mean its rotation.
According to recent reports, the event occurred on March 26 at 1:42 UTC.
Attempts to contact are unsuccessful.
UPD3: According to data as of March 30, two attempts were made to communicate with the device, the signals from it were received, but they were very short, so they could not be decrypted. According to JAXA radar observations, two objects were identified at the satellite site (not six, as reported by the US military). At the same time, Americans arguethat there is no reason to suspect a collision with space debris. Visual observations of amateur astronomers show that the satellite rotates at a speed of one revolution in 11.4 seconds, and there is a suspicion that the rotation is slowing down. Observation with binoculars and amateur telescopes did not reveal any fragments that separated from the telescope.
Another flight video:
We will follow the development of events.