July 30, 2016

"The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is on a quest for redemption."

Nature: In March, a software error caused the agency’s Hitomi X-ray astronomy satellite to break up in space, cutting short a planned three-year mission after only one month. by Alexandra Witze

'JAXA has not yet decided whether a Hitomi successor would fly or which instruments it would carry, says ISAS spokeswoman Chisato Ikuta. But Hitomi’s premier scientific instrument was the spectrometer provided by NASA; data that it collected before the spacecraft died revealed secrets about gas flows in the Perseus galaxy cluster.

'The spectrometer seems to be thrice cursed; two earlier versions on different satellites were lost to a launch failure and a coolant leakage. Even so, a NASA advisory group reported on 5 July that launching a copy of the instrument no later than 2023 “would fulfill the immense scientific promise of the Hitomi” spectrometer. The cost to rebuild would be roughly US$70 million to $90 million.

'Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics director, will meet with JAXA representatives to discuss the options. “Certainly we would not be overseeing JAXA,” he told a NASA advisory committee on 20 July. “We can discuss practices that NASA implements to prevent us from making avoidable mistakes.”

'Other international missions in the works from JAXA include a magnetospheric orbiter, which is scheduled to launch next year on the European Space Agency’s BepiColumbo mission to Mercury.

'“The Olympics of engineering is when things go wrong,” says [Ralph] Lorenz. “Maybe the best time to fly is right after a failure.”'

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