Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Get HideMyAss! VPN, PC Mag's Top 10 VPNs of 2016 for 55% off for a Limited Time ×
Japan Space Earth NASA Security United States News

Japan's $273 Million Satellite Has Broken Up Into 'Multiple Pieces' (techinsider.io) 140

An anonymous reader writes: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that it has lost contact with its "Hitomi" satellite -- a state-of-the-art X-ray observatory, developed in conjunction with NASA, to spy on energetic processes in space including black holes, massive galaxies, and exploding stars. On Sunday, March 27, the Japanese Space Agency announced it had lost contact with the satellite on March 26, just a little more than a month after it was launched on February 17. Now, Members of the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), a military organization that identifies and tracks space debris near Earth, said five objects were drifting near the location of Hitomi at around the same time it lost communication with Earth, Nature reports. It's being reported that Hitomi has separated into "multiple pieces" before March 26. Currently, there are about 40 JAXA technicians scouring the skies, trying to locate the expensive observatory.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Japan's $273 Million Satellite Has Broken Up Into 'Multiple Pieces'

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    All that space junk out there - it was bound to happen. We either need to start cleaning up or affixing defensive technology onto satellites...

    • Re:We asked for it (Score:4, Informative)

      by creimer ( 824291 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:16PM (#51795619) Homepage

      We either need to start cleaning up or affixing defensive technology onto satellites.

      China does have anti-satellite missiles. If the Japanese telescope got pointed in the wrong direction, they may have mistaken it for a spy satellite and taken it out.

      http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/china-secretly-tested-an-anti-satellite-missile/ [thediplomat.com]

      • I think an anti-satellite missile would result in more than 5 pieces. Although the tweet referenced in the summary [twitter.com] states 2 breakup events, one resulting in 5 pieces and the other in 21 pieces. And for some reason it seems to conclude that the 2 events are unrelated. While it would be interesting if it were struck by either a natural object or debris, it sounds like the events are actually related and that it experienced an onboard failure. Or, the second breakup event could have also been caused by the

        • Re:We asked for it (Score:4, Informative)

          by sl3xd ( 111641 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:43PM (#51795799) Journal

          I think an anti-satellite missile would result in more than 5 pieces.

          To say nothing of the fact that any interceptor capable of getting to Hitomi would be detected by the US Joint Space Operations Center and the Russian equivalent.

          It takes a big rocket to get up there.

          Given the velocities involved, a few flecks of paint that broke off of an earlier mission could do it, especially if they managed to hit something pressurized. (Note: I have no idea if Hitomi had propellant).

          • What exactly are the typical velocity differences in any particular orbit? Anything in the same circular orbit would have roughly the same velocity. Stuff like chips of paint breaking off would remain in the same orbit as well. Wouldn't it take something being knocked into an elliptical orbit to produce substantial differences in velocity on intersecting orbits?
            • The velocities are massive, can be 10 km/s. Not all satellites orbit the same direction - they can be opposite or 90 degrees off or anything in between. Picture a 1g flake of paint traveling at a relative velocity of 20 km/s hitting something explosive and fragile like a lithium battery!
            • Re:We asked for it (Score:5, Interesting)

              by sl3xd ( 111641 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @08:45PM (#51796643) Journal

              Insane velocities. First off: Equatorial orbits are rare. This means nearly every orbit has a significant north/south vector. And we have polar orbits as well. In short: you have to try really hard to have anything resembling the same direction. Wolfram Alpha pegs the average orbital velocity at 29.8 km/s. Thes velocities can easily be nearly 'head-on' at 60 km/s of impact velocity. Even a fraction of a gram impacting at those speeds is a very bad day.

              The ISS has over 100 shielding systems for kinetic impact (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whipple_shield). EVA suits are designed to be 'bullet' proof, and to maintain pressure after being hit by a meteor (for a while, at least).

              The space shuttle generally flew 'backwards and upside down' to attempt to protect the crew from impacts. (http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae524.cfm)

              A big reason for the large inspection time between shuttle flights was to find & replace tiles damaged by micrometeors.

              Seriously: space ain't a walk in the park.

              • "Wolfram Alpha pegs the average orbital velocity at 29.8 km/s."

                That's the orbit of Earth around the sun, not really relevant here. The escape velocity from earth is 11 km/s; a low-earth orbit is a factor sqrt(2) slower (8 km/s).

                "Thes velocities can easily be nearly 'head-on' at 60 km/s of impact velocity."

                Head-on would result from (debris from) a satellite going east-west, against the rotation of the earth. I don't see why anyone would want to launch satellites other than west-east. It would add 900 m/s to

                • P.S. It turns out that there actually are a few satellites in retrograde orbits, notably a few satellites launched from Israel, which georgaphical location makes eastward launches unpractical. Still, the head-on collision speed would be 16 km/s, not 60. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik... [wikipedia.org]
                  • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

                    Thanks for the correction!

                • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

                  The correction is appreciated!

                  Tthere are many sources of micrometeors. Debris from launches are one, but earth has collected plenty of pebbles in retrograde orbits over the æons.

                  I also wonder what the relative velocities of objects in the various seasonal meteor showers are (persied, gemenid if I remember right)

            • by dbIII ( 701233 )

              Wouldn't it take something being knocked into an elliptical orbit to produce substantial differences in velocity on intersecting orbits?

              Yes. There's a lot of that happening. It can't be looked at as a one dimensional system of circular orbits.

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )

            (Note: I have no idea if Hitomi had propellant).

            They all have propellant or they end up slowly descending. There's not a lot of air up there but there are enough molecules of gas impacting stuff in orbit to produce drag so if you want something to stay up for years it needs to be able to come back up to speed every now and again.
            Also the earth is not a perfect sphere so local gravitational effects drag things out of their desired orbits. It's not just a problem on inclined orbits, apparently things in geo

            • by Strider- ( 39683 )

              Depends on how high they are. Above about 500km or so, the residual atmosphere is thin enough that it will take decades for something to decay. Above around 1500km or so, the decay time is measured in millennia.

              For example, the Hubble Space Telescope does not have thruster systems (the exhaust would damage the optics, so it wouldn't be able to use them anyway. One of the tasks of the servicing missions was re-boosting it to a higher orbit.

          • All satellites have propellant. If they didn't they'd all end up a Lagrange point with all the other dead satellites.

            • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

              I'd agree overall, but a Lagrange orbit isn't necessarily the final destination.

              My personal favorite is the flaming fireball of awesomeness.

            • by Strider- ( 39683 )

              Sorry, no, the Lagrange points are all out beyond the orbit of the moon, dead satellites will certainly never migrate that far way from the earth. Secondly, the only two stable ones are about 1/3 ahead and behind us in our orbit around the sun.

      • Anti-satellite missiles are not stealth weapons - the launch would certainly have been noticed by one of the many countries that monitors for missile-like objects riding a controlled explosion into the sky.

        • by Teun ( 17872 )
          So what about this North Korean missile that was apparently tumbling in space?
          Being launched from a similar latitude it might have been very close, being a very recent launch it's trajectory might not have been well understood.

          Regardless, Kim Jong-un is the Supreme Leader and he knew where to hit.
        • Launching a huge rocket to destroy a single satellite isn't very efficient. Better to launch an anti-satellite weapons system that remains in orbit and can be used against multiple targets.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        They wouldn't fire a missile at it, they would blind and damage the electronics with lasers. That's what they have been doing for years, and probably what the US has been doing too. They only do it intermittently though, more as a kind of "we can blind you any time we like" than a serious effort to prevent observation.

    • While it is possible, it is extremely unlikely that it collided with orbital debris. Hitomi was traveling at 575km, a relatively low Earth orbit that is not terribly debris-heavy (the Earth's atomsphere actually de-orbits debris for us, thanks to drag effects). The objects spotted in its vicinity around the time of lost contact were debris from the satellite itself. Given the relatively short period of time it was operating for, the most likely problem was a failure in one of its systems (coolant or propell

      • Given the relatively short period of time it was operating for, the most likely problem was a failure in one of its systems (coolant or propellant) that caused an explosion.

        That's not sexy and doesn't fuel speculation or nerd-rage about space debris.

  • My condolences (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:12PM (#51795587) Journal

    Rest In Pieces

    Science took an unfortunate whack to the guts. I'm glad to see resources spent on science instead of war, however. Even with occasional failures like this, the overall payoff is usually far better than war of late.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      All well, but I hope the increasing amount of debris don't get us stuck on the surface of the Earth for a long time. Time to act,

  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:13PM (#51795595) Journal

    workmen cleaning up in the HITOMI clean bay are overheard saying "look at all these extra screws and bolts!"

  • I really doubt the Japanese built something that just fell apart after 30 days in orbit. Hit by pre-existing orbital debris? If it were hit by a meteor coming from outside Earth orbit, the parts wouldn't be in quite the same area as the satellite afterwards, right?

    So much for "Big Sky Little Bullet"...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      China.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      Government funded project. It's a special category.
    • If it were hit by a meteor coming from outside Earth orbit, the parts wouldn't be in quite the same area as the satellite afterwards, right?

      I think that a micro-meteor would punch a hole right through it. If that hole passes through something like a tank or bottle of gas then that would cause a problem.

      • by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:43PM (#51795797)

        Here's a tweet that shows a sudden change in orbital period [twitter.com]. That could be consistent with an impact pushing it slightly closer to the planet. That's a small change, I think the Y axis on that graph is orbital period in minutes, so it only represents a change of about 2 seconds. Even so, it's obviously noticeable. Although it's a little odd that it didn't keep changing that quickly. If an impact pushed it into a slightly lower orbit it wouldn't just stop there, it would keep falling. Although maybe the impact came from the rear and it just slightly sped up the satellite. If the speed slightly increased then that should result in a 1-time drop in the orbital period.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:57PM (#51795893)

          If an impact pushed it into a slightly lower orbit it wouldn't just stop there, it would keep falling.

          That's not how orbits work. A lower orbit is still an orbit, and it's perfectly stable unless the satellite was pushed clear into the atmosphere. Without adding significant kinetic energy or subtracting it from the satellite, any impact that makes it deviate from its normal course would send it on a more elliptical orbit.

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          If an impact pushed it into a slightly lower orbit it wouldn't just stop there, it would keep falling.

          It is falling, gravity is what makes things orbit. It's not a one dimensional system - the impact has made it fall in a different way to earlier.

        • NASA and NORAD have said that the satellite broke into 5 pieces. They've got a video on National Geographic that shows the satellite passing overhead and changing brightness continuously as if it's spinning or tumbling. Japan is getting an intermittent signal which would also support tumbling or spinning.

          IMO it was clearly hit by something or one of the propellant tanks ruptured. Given the 5 pieces NORAD said it broke into I'd wager an impact more than a rupture. Remember that Russian satellite that ran int

    • > I really doubt the Japanese built something that just fell apart after 30 days

      You never bought a japanese appliance, isn't it ?!?
      • I live in Japan and just bought a Hitachi dehumidifier, but it was Made In China.

        The Rinmai(?) gas range I've been using for over 2 years is still going strong. I think that was made locally...

        While Japan has had some issues with auto-related products (Takata airbags especially), their precision manufacturing and electronic sub-components, i.e. things that are far more important to a space satellite, are still very well regarded. Rightfully so.
  • Not serious:

    1) Let country launch space object.
    2) Tear it into pieces.
    3) Point at North Korea (or Russia or whatever middle-eastern or African country or ..)

    • Not serious:

      1) Let country launch space object.
      2) Tear it into pieces.
      3) Point at North Korea (or Russia or whatever middle-eastern or African country or ..)

      Mean-while Kim Jong-un announces their latest space-satellite is a huge success and work just as intended.

      • by sl3xd ( 111641 )

        You forgot the threats against international 'meddling' that will accompany Kim Jong-un's proclamation. That or it's a reaction against recent provocations against the DPRK.

        I'm sure my most recent trip to the toilet will be among the listed provocations.

    • 3) Point at North Korea (or Russia or whatever middle-eastern or African country or ..)

      Well, the summary did say it was a spy satellite produced with the assistance of NSA. Of course North Korea or Russia would do something about it.

      What? NASA? Sneaky three-letter agencies, using four letters!

      • by meglon ( 1001833 )

        Of course North Korea.... would do something about it.

        Yes, but how effective is it to keep shooting missiles into the ocean? I mean, sure, it probably keeps a few fish up late at night, but other than that....

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )
          NK is a crazy homeless guy with a sign "will threaten for food". So it is effective. Batshit insane but it gets the job done when they have deliberately destroyed most of their agriculture and want to keep threatening instead of rebuilding.
  • It's about some those nations that exploit space commercially contributed something to managing space junk better, even if it's only funding a few prototypes to test potential cleanup methods.

  • Why only one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:38PM (#51795755)

    Honest question here. We only make and launch one Hubble, one Jim Webb, etc. Design of these things is a large portion of the budget. The mirrors are the main item where the manufacturing cost greatly outstrips the design and tooling costs (I think?). So why don't we make a half dozen of each of these of these things instead of just one?

    • Huh, good question. I wonder why? Why not build 5 identical billion dollar satellites instead of just one and throw the other four away? What could possibly be the reason?
      • Re:Why only one (Score:5, Insightful)

        by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @07:18PM (#51796077)
        I think the OP is asking why we don't try to use economies of scale to lower the cost while increasing the science capabilities we have available. It's a perfectly good question, one that ultimately is probably answered by "there's too many politicians who don't see value in science." Hubble's been up there ~25 years, and has only resolved a small portion of space. If we'd placed 5 of them up there all working on separate things, we'd still only have resolved a small portion of space, but it'd be 5 times what we have now.
        • Re:Why only one (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @08:11PM (#51796427)

          The probable answer is that these devices are all painstakingly hand-made. I'd imagine there ARE no economies of scale with hand-made items of this size and complexity, at least, not enough to be significant, and not at such low counts. See: Space Shuttle.

          Also, consider this: if we had made five Hubbles, we would have screwed up all five of them with the same mistakes we made on the first one, and would never have been able to repair them all. It cuts both ways. We could barely pull together rescue and repair missions to repair the one craft.

          • Re:Why only one (Score:4, Insightful)

            by khallow ( 566160 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:17PM (#51797461)
            Hand-made routinely has economies of scale to it as well. And there's the obvious matter that there are huge one time costs in the development of the first spacecraft that would not need to be duplicated in copies.

            Also, consider this: if we had made five Hubbles, we would have screwed up all five of them with the same mistakes we made on the first one, and would never have been able to repair them all.

            You wouldn't need to. When the first one demonstrated the error in space, then you can remake the mirrors for the other four before launching them. The gyroscope problem [newscientist.com] also turned up well before the first service repair mission.

            So then you have one bad Hubble that you can deorbit and four working ones that you don't need to deorbit.

          • The problem with the mirror on Hubble was caused by a measuring device malfunctioning when they where grinding it. The backup mirror, a second complete mirror* that was made in case something went wrong with the first during manufacture, did NOT have the same issue. NASA dropped the ball by not testing both the mirrors and using the best one, which is SOP for a ground based observatory.

            If the USA had built 5 Hubble telescopes odds are the the others would not have had any issues with their mirrors.

            *The
        • I think the OP is asking why we don't try to use economies of scale to lower the cost while increasing the science capabilities we have available.

          Because "economies of scale" isn't a magic wand that you can just wave and magically make everything cheaper. In particular, items with enormous amounts of touch labor (such as the mirrors carried by Hubble or Hitomi) aren't really susceptible to economies of scale because the costs of actually building the thing far exceed the costs of setting up to build the t

          • by meglon ( 1001833 )
            Economy of scale is a pretty simply thing to understand, so i have to wonder like Ripley did if the average IQ around here dropped dramatically when you logged in. Perhaps you have trouble understanding it, which is why you can't fathom that someone else might, but cheer up bucko, maybe you can pull something else out of your ass... like your head.

            As the OP asked:

            Design of these things is a large portion of the budget. The mirrors are the main item where the manufacturing cost greatly outstrips the design and tooling costs (I think?). So why don't we make a half dozen of each of these of these things instead of just one?

            What he is suggesting is economy of scale. If designing is a large enough portion of a projects budget, economy of scale works with smaller

            • What he is suggesting is economy of scale.

              No shit Sherlock. Here's a free clue, repeating yourself pointlessly doesn't make you right. It makes you look like more of a moron.

              If designing is a large enough portion of a projects budget, economy of scale works with smaller manufacturing batches

              No shit Sherlock. Why the fuck do you think I pointed out the precise reason why it wouldn't work in this case? Did you even read what I wrote? (You may be ignorant of the situation with regards to such mat

              • by khallow ( 566160 )

                Why the fuck do you think I pointed out the precise reason why it wouldn't work in this case? Did you even read what I wrote?

                It would help, if you were right, but you aren't. There's nothing magical about hand-made projects that makes them impervious to economies of scale. R&D and costly production errors don't need to be replicated. Molds and similar construction aid tools can be reused. Everyone is more experienced with making the project and can to some degree work more efficiently on further copies.

                I wonder how much the US would have gotten done in space by now, if the grown ups who actually know something about econom

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            I think the OP is asking why we don't try to use economies of scale to lower the cost while increasing the science capabilities we have available.

            Because "economies of scale" isn't a magic wand that you can just wave and magically make everything cheaper. In particular, items with enormous amounts of touch labor (such as the mirrors carried by Hubble or Hitomi) aren't really susceptible to economies of scale because the costs of actually building the thing far exceed the costs of setting up to build the thing.

            The obvious rebuttal is that R&D on the first one is a one-time significant cost. You don't have to re-research or redevelop Hubble from scratch with each additional telescope constructed. Additional development would have to be done to correct for errors found in either the construction process or the final product, but those costs would pale compared to the cost of the original development.

            Similarly, you don't need separate operations for each telescope. It is not significantly harder to manage fiv

        • by Anonymous Coward

          We do use economies of scale. You just don't know about the other satellites that use much of the same technology, pointed at the Earth instead of outer space. You might have forgotten this [wikipedia.org].

        • I think the OP is asking why we don't try to use economies of scale ...

          I think we are probably already going that way, slowly; we are already exploring things like the Very Large Array (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_G._Jansky_Very_Large_Array) and Very Large Telescope (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very_Large_Telescope) use "small and cheap" (well, you know ...) components and achieve better resolutions by spreading out the components over a larger area. We could probably produce a space telescope along the same principle, as a swarm of very many, small mirrors that coope

        • The oft-overlooked part of this is all of the infrastructure needed to manage the sats once in orbit. There are only so many earth stations and only so much TDRSS [wikipedia.org] satellite bandwidth available.

          Also, by the time a satellite is finished, technology has usually outpaced the onboard systems and made it illogical to duplicate the original sat.

    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      We usually do build most parts in multiples.
      After rigorous testing the best goes in service.
      An example of 'recycled' parts is the Indian ScatSat-1 but there are others.
    • Re:Why only one (Score:5, Interesting)

      by thrich81 ( 1357561 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @08:53PM (#51796697)

      I asked just that question of some people who build scientific spacecraft. They told me that building the second copy doesn't cost much less than the first one -- the second costs about 70% of the cost of the first was their guess. Economies of scale don't kick in for just a couple or few units. And you have to consider that these things seem to usually run over budget so any extra funds for a second spacecraft will be eaten up by overruns on the first unit. As far as building more than a few copies, by the time a science spacecraft actually gets built and launched the design is pretty old and the investigators would want to move on to the next generation rather than repeat capabilities. There have been times when twin spacecraft were built (Mariners 1&2, Mariners 3 Mariners 6&7, Mariners 8&9, Voyager 1&2, Viking 1&2) but those were a long time ago when launch vehicles were less reliable (Mariners 1, 3, and 8 were all lost to launch vehicle failures) and in those cases the second vehicle complemented the first rather than just providing redundancy.

    • by Strider- ( 39683 )

      Because large precision devices are expensive, take a long time to build, so there's no economies of scale. The mirror onboard the Hubble is a highly precise piece of glass (it's precisely incorrect, but precise non the less), and building large telescope mirrors is tough.

      • by dj245 ( 732906 )

        Because large precision devices are expensive, take a long time to build, so there's no economies of scale. The mirror onboard the Hubble is a highly precise piece of glass (it's precisely incorrect, but precise non the less), and building large telescope mirrors is tough.

        No, there absolutely are economies of scale. The tooling you buy/build to make that megahuge mirror probably was custom designed and built. If you can build 2 mirrors, the tooling and tooling design cost drops to 50% on a per-unit basis.

        The procedures, qualification, and documentation benefit also. You need procedures for your technicians to work to, which someone has to write, then someone has to review, and someone has to approve it. You often need to make small qualification parts to prove that c

        • Which doesn't mean there are significant economies of scale. Direct labor and materials tend to be very large parts of bleeding-edge scientific stuff.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      You kinda did build more than one, actually. Much of Hubble was based on spy satellite tech. In fact NASA recently had two space telescopes that were originally spy sats donated to it. [wikipedia.org]

      NASA is planning to use those donated telescopes, but there are still significant costs involved.

    • What's the marginal value in another Hubble? Being able to see that clearly is a real good thing, but would having two for not quite double the cost be worthwhile?

    • Who says we don't? NASA gets one 'for science', pointed into deep space. The NSA gets 4 pointed earthward 'for national security'. The science instrument foots most of the R&D/tooling bill for the spy toys. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
  • by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @06:47PM (#51795817)
    I guess we found the North Korean satellite.
  • all that time and effort and money invested all lost, all the new discoveries it could have made now lost
  • "That's a priceless satellite!"

    "Not anymore."
  • It's clear this was shot down by aliens. What discoveries did they want to prevent, I wonder? /s

  • secretly some country blew it up with directed energy. this wreaks of sabotage ..

    could be domestic or foreign.

    drrobertduncan.com [drrobertduncan.com]
    obamasweapon.com [obamasweapon.com]

  • Thanks, Obama!
  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @09:50PM (#51796969)
    Those five objects are going to reform into a giant robot.
  • We need to build in space.

  • A $273 million research satellite was dashed into pieces, resulting in a financial disaster

    A major studio (Disney) spends $307 on "John Carter", another major financial disaster.

    We spend more making bad movies about space travel than we spend on actual research.

    At least the Japanese can try again with an improved version of their satellite, while Disney will never be able to turn something like "John Carter" into a successful movie.

  • Not knowing anything about this stuff I would say that loosing 1/4 of a billion dollars is a lot of money. I wonder how the aver joe on the street in Japan feels about this?
    • About a dollar or two per Japanese citizen. Seriously, from a government point of view, and major scientific satellites are typically government projects, this isn't much money.

  • Isn't it obvious? Optimus Prime transformed too many times and just fell apart.

Coding is easy; All you do is sit staring at a terminal until the drops of blood form on your forehead.

Working...