National / Science & Health

JAXA eyes 2020 launch of new X-ray astronomy satellite to replace lost Hitomi

Kyodo

The nation’s space agency said Thursday it is considering launching in 2020 an X-ray astronomy satellite to succeed Hitomi, which the agency lost communication with in March soon after it entered orbit.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said at a science ministry panel that it is studying improving the communication system software used in Hitomi.

That satellite — jointly developed by JAXA, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other concerns — was equipped with four X-ray telescopes and two gamma-ray detectors, which scientists hoped would shed light on the mysteries surrounding the evolution of the universe and of black holes.

Hitomi was launched Feb. 17 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, but JAXA completely lost contact with the satellite on March 29 after experiencing trouble communicating with it.

JAXA said the new satellite may be launched by an H-IIA rocket. It did not say how much such a new project would cost.

Currently, there is no similar planned observatory project until the European Space Agency launches its next-generation satellite sometime after 2028.

JAXA’s vice president, Saku Tsuneta, said the agency should try to shorten “the blank period” as much as possible.

JAXA also said it plans to launch an advanced unmanned cargo ship to the International Space Station in fiscal 2021. The carrying capability of the improved Konotori cargo transporter will be 45 percent greater than the current model.