Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Hope fades to salvage Japanese space telescope
Posted: September 22, 2000

An artist's concept of the ASCA observatory in space. Photo: NASA
Dear ASCA users,

As was announced in July, ASCA has transferred into a safe-hold mode (SH-mode). In spite of our serious efforts for about two months after the event, we are not able to recover ASCA to the normal observation mode. Here, we wish to report briefly on the event and current status of ASCA.

A historically big solar flare occured on July 14, 2000, with extremely strong solar proton flux. Subsequently, the solar flare triggered a big geomagnetic storm that continued for a few days after July 15. The orbital altitude of ASCA has been gradually decreasing for the seven and a half years of operation, and its perigee was 440 km at the time. Thus we expected the re-entry of ASCA into the atmosphere to be the middle of next year.

Due to the geomagnetic storm, the atmosphere sporadically expanded and the atmospheric gas density at the ASCA altitude sudenly increased to several times the normal value. This caused the external torque on the satellite due to the air drag to increase. Thus, the ASCA attitude was perturbed and the on-board attitude control system (ACS) transferred ASCA to the SH-mode. Since the accumulated external torque was stronger than the compensable internal torque stored in the on-board momentum wheels, the ASCA attitude was not locked to the nominal aspect of SH-mode, and further moved away the solar paddles from the nominal direction normal to the sun. This reduced power generation by the solar cells and finally exhausted the battery power completely.

After the event, we attempted all possible and considerable operations     to recover the aspect and to charge up the battery. However, there has  been no improvement so far. We suspect that the battery cells may have suffered serious unrecoverable damage.

Currently we can operate ASCA only during real-time aquisition of ASCA     at KSC in daytime using the power that is generated by the solar cells and connected to the equipment directly through the busline. We have continued to monitor the rough ASCA aspect using the geomagnetic aspect sensors. ASCA is now flying in a free spin mode with a period of about 3 min and a nutation angle of about 40 degree. After the long unrewarding efforts to recover ASCA, we decided to change the ASCA operation from early September; thereafter we operate ASCA just once a day during the daytime aquisition at KSC for monitoring the status of ASCA.

Taking all of the situation explained above into account, we regret that we must announce that the possibility that ASCA will return to observation mode is very small, almost hopeless, even though we will monitor the ASCA status untill its re-entry into the atmosphere. We appreciate your understanding that we must cancel all the programmed long observations after July 15, 2000. We will report more details at the HEAD meeting in November.

Finally, we wish to thank all the astronomers who have participated to the ASCA observations, and all the members of the ASCA operation team in Japan and the members of the NASA ASCA/GOF facility in the United States for their close collaboration in the ASCA operation from proposal handling, observation planning, satellite tracking, and data aquisition, through data processing and archiving. ASCA lived twice as long as the planned mission life, and we believe that the successful collaboration between Japanese and US scientists has produced tremendous fruitful scientific results from ASCA.