Earth to $273M Satellite: What Happened to You?
Japan tries reconnecting with Hitomi
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2016 7:20 PM CDT
The Hitomi satellite is launched on Feb. 17.   (YouTube)

(Newser) – Japan has sort of lost something—a $273M satellite just launched to monitor X-rays coming from galaxy clusters and black holes, Discovery News reports. "We're taking the situation seriously," says Saku Tsuneta, a senior official at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). "We know approximately where it is." Launched Feb. 17, the Hitomi satellite was scheduled to be online March 26, but the connection didn't happen. The US Joint Space Operations Center then found signals from five objects close to the satellite, and tracking data shows Hitomi went significantly off course, Wired reports. Did Hitomi break up? Was it hit by an asteroid?

Luckily, the Japanese "tend to be very good at resurrecting things that would otherwise be dead," says US space expert Moriba Jah. Case in point: Not long ago, JAXA steered the Akatsuki satellite to orbit around Venus after it went adrift for five years. JAXA could try solving the Hitomi mystery by tracing the paths of those five space objects to see "when the collision actually occurred," says Jah, though Wired calls the idea of an asteroid striking it "on its first day of work" a "crazy coincidence" (maybe Hitomi just blew up). Sadly, the high-resolution spectrometer on board to measure X-rays was ruined on two earlier Japanese missions, damaged on launch in 2000 and crippled by a helium leak in 2005, Nature reports. (The recent discovery of gravitational waves adds to evidence that black holes exist.)