TOKYO -- The Astro-H X-ray satellite has become inoperative since arriving in Earth orbit in February, potentially stalling some astronomy research until 2028.
Transmissions from the satellite, developed jointly by Japan, the U.S. and Europe, failed to begin as planned March 26. The satellite, also called Hitomi, has been mostly quiet since.
Visual observations from the University of Tokyo and other organizations show the device rotating once every five seconds or so, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said Friday. But the satellite is supposed to remain mostly still under ordinary circumstances.
The rotation may have separated solar cells and other equipment from the main body, the agency said, potentially impairing the satellite's functioning even if communication can be re-established. Hitomi's attitude control system, sensors and software are being investigated as causes.
JAXA launched the satellite in mid-February at the cost of 31 billion yen ($286 million). Hitomi is designed to make precise observations of X-rays from phenomena such as a black hole or supernova in order to advance understanding of the nature of the universe and our galaxy. The two other X-ray satellites in orbit are past their planned operational lives, and the next one is to be launched from Europe in 2028. Failure to recover Hitomi could create an observational gap sometime between now and then.