The ASTRO-H rocket launched from an island off the south coast of Japan in February

Japan abandons its black hole research satellite

Japan has abandoned its Hitomi satellite, designed to study supermassive black holes and other space phenomena, because its solar array paddles are thought to have broken off.

The satellite was launched by Japan in an H-IIA rocket in February 2016 from the Tanegashima Space Centre, situated on a small island in the south of Japan. Contact with the satellite was lost on March 26, a little over a month later.

Although it was previously called Astro-H, after lift-off the satellite was designated Hitomi. Japan traditionally assigns a name to its satellites during the implementation phase before renaming them after launch.

Every effort was made to restore the operation of the multi-million dollar device, which used X-ray telescopes to probe the mysteries of black holes, but communication could not be re-established.

The Japanese space agency initially thought that the satellite was still transmitting after picking up signals on three occasions. It later concluded that the frequency received was not transmitted from the Hitomi.

It had been developed in collaboration with institutions in Japan, the US, Canada and Europe to probe the sky in the X-ray and soft gamma ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

“Most of our analyses, including simulations on the mechanisms of object separation, it is highly likely that both solar array paddles had broken off at their bases where they are vulnerable to rotation,” the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a statement.

“JAXA has also received information from several overseas organizations that indicated the separation of the two solar array paddles from ASTRO-H. Considering this information, we have determined that we cannot restore the Astro-H’s functions.

“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.”

Japan's Kyodo News agency reported that Japan spent about 31 billion yen (£198m) on the project and NASA had invested around $70m.

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