At a press conference in Tokyo today, officials of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said that because of the difficulty of gathering information from the wayward Hitomi x-ray observatory they couldn't say how long it might take to figure out what has gone wrong. A joint JAXA-NASA mission, Hitomi was launched 17 February and was still undergoing commissioning when normal communications were lost on 26 March. Originally called ASTRO-H, Hitomi carries a suite of instruments designed to detect x-rays and gamma rays emanating from black holes, swirling gases in galaxy clusters, and supernova remnants.
Ground stations have intermittently picked up signals apparently from the spacecraft on four occasions, raising hopes that the main body of the craft might be intact. But the last of those glimpses of life was on 29 March. Ground visual and radar observations indicate that the craft has split into at least two pieces and is likely spinning. "At the moment, there is no evidence of a collision with space debris," said Saku Tsuneta, director general of JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara near Tokyo.