Japan’s space agency launched a satellite aimed to study black holes back in February, then abruptly lost contact with the craft in March. Now we finally know what caused the mysterious disappearance.
After spending the past month piecing together what happened, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that the $273 million Hitomi looks to have spiraled out of control after the craft’s solar array panels broke off during flight. They initially suspected the craft may have hit debris, but now it seems like the solar arrays just broke off from the base.
This could explain why researchers spotted debris from the satellite, then received some bizarre ghost messages from the craft before it fully disappeared. Though the solar array damage made the craft go flying off course, it explains why the communications tech (which was apparently still intact at the moment) could still manage to send back a few messages. Sadly, now that JAXA has figured out the apparently extent of the damage, it seems the $273 million project is a loss. Ouch.
“JAXA expresses the deepest regret for the fact that we had to discontinue the operations of ASTRO-H (Hitomi) 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,” JAXA officials said in a statement.
The mission was conceived to send Hitomi out into space to study black holes and hopefully start peeling back the mysteries of the universe. But it’s a moot point now, all due to those (apparent) broken solar panels.