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Japan's Hitomi mission fails, probe not responding

The space agency has assembled a recovery team, but X-ray images suggest the probe is now broken into five different pieces.
By Brooks Hays   |   March 28, 2016 at 12:58 PM

TOKYO, March 28 (UPI) -- A Japanese space probe is missing in action. On Sunday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, confirmed that the Hitomi spacecraft had stopped responding to calls from mission control.

The probe last communicated with JAXA engineers on Saturday.

"It is a seriously critical situation, and the success of the mission will be very bleak if the probe does not recover its functions," Saku Tsuneta, director of the JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, told Asahi Shimbun. "We will make an all-out effort to recover the satellite."

"Up to now, JAXA has not been able to figure out the state of health of the satellite," JAXA said in a statement on Sunday.

The space agency has assembled a recovery team, but X-ray images suggest the probe is now broken into five different pieces.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, told ABC Science the probe may have disintegrated in space as a result of a battery explosion or explosive gas leak.

"Everyone's just gutted," McDowell said. "To hear that they've run into this piece of bad luck, it's so very sad."

Hitomi is an X-ray satellite. It was deployed to study high-energy processes in the universe, including those involving dark energy and dark matter.

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