The mission of the Japanese space observatory Suzaku has ended

The Astro-E2, then renamed Suzaku, satellite during its test phase (Photo NASA)
The Astro-E2, then renamed Suzaku, satellite during its test phase (Photo NASA)

In recent days, the Japanese Suzaku space observatory has been deactivated. On August 26, 2015, JAXA, the Japanese space agency, communicated the decision to terminate the mission of this satellite specialized in X-ray astronomy. Communications between the mission control center and Suzaku had become intermittent since June 1, 2015 and JAXA, after trying to restore them, decided to start the deactivation procedures.

The Suzaku space observatory was originally known as ASTRO-EII or Astro-E2, a JAXA mission to which American institutions also collaborated, including NASA. It’s the second satellite of this kind but the first one, ASTRO-E, was lost due to a failure occurred shortly after blast off at the M-V-4 rocket it was launched atop on February 10, 2000.

The ASTRO-EII satellite, identical to the previous one, was successfully launched on July 10, 2005 on a M-V-6 rocket. As in the Japanese tradition, after it was put into orbit it was given a new name, Suzaku, the mythical Vermilion bird of the South. Unfortunately the X-ray spectrometer XRS only worked for a few weeks because it needed to be cooled by the liquid helium present in a tank but a fault at the cooling system caused it to spill out.

Despite the problems, the Suzaku mission has been going on for almost ten years since the other two instruments were able to work without cooling. The observations were focused on supernovae, black holes and galaxy clusters. Originally, the mission was supposed to last two years but it was possible to extend it until the recent problems.

The Suzaku mission was important for research on the formation of the universe and black holes. However, the deterioration of the satellite batteries made it increasingly difficult to use it and recent communication problems convinced JAXA that it was time to end the mission.

In recent days, commands were sent to shut down the Suzaku satellite’s systems to avoid any risk of electrical surge with possible explosions. The satellite orbits at about 550 kilometers (about 341 miles) altitude and should fall down slowly to disintegrate in the atmosphere no earlier than 2020. Its successor, called for now ASTRO-H and originally NeXT (New X-ray Telescope), is scheduled to be launched at the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016.

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