Image above: Artist's conception of Suzaku in orbit. Image credit: ISAS/JAXA
The Suzaku spacecraft will help us to learn in more detail about the X-ray sky.
After the successful launch of Suzaku on July 10, 2005, the X-ray Spectrometer (XRS) was activated and performed to specifications for almost three weeks. On July 29 the XRS experienced the first of a series of events associated with helium gas entering the dewar vacuum space. On August 8 there were two such events, the second of which overwhelmed the dewar vacuum, resulting in the liquid helium boiling off and venting to space. Without the helium cryogen, the XRS instrument can no longer provide the planned science. A mishap investigation board is being formed to understand the cause of this loss and to make recommendations for future missions.
The Suzaku satellite has two other instruments, the X-ray Imaging Spectrometer and the Hard X-ray Detector, which still provide new and exciting science capabilities. It will now be necessary to plan a new observation program, optimized to these instruments.
The Universe holds an enormous number of extremely energetic objects like neutron stars, active and merging galaxies, black holes, and supernovae. The Suzaku satellite will provide scientists with information to study these events in the X-ray energy range. Astronomers hope it will help answer several important questions: When and where are the chemical elements created? What happens when matter falls onto a black hole? How does nature heat gas to X-ray emitting temperatures?
Among other instruments, Suzaku carries a new type of X-ray spectrometer, which will provide for the first time both high resolution (allowing scientists to see much finer detail in the spectrum) and high throughput (measuring a very large percentage of all of the photons that strike it). Unfortunately, because of the loss of cryogen, the XRS instrument can no longer provide the planned science.
Suzaku (formerly Astro-E2) is a re-flight of Astro-E, lost during launch in 2000. It is the successor to the ASCA X-ray satellite. Suzaku was developed at the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS, which is part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA.) in collaboration with Japanese and US institutions including NASA. It was launched on July 10, 2005. In the Japanese tradition, the mission was renamed after launch, with the name remaining a secret until that time.