Quake Could Disrupt Japan’s Astro-H Work

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Work on the joint NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Astro-H mission could be slowed as a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated parts of northern Japan in March, according to NASA Astrophysics Division chief Jon Morse.

“Various facilities experienced different levels of damage, and … there is the infrastructure that was disrupted, and of course some places were very hard hit,” Morse said during an April 7 conference call with members of the NASA Advisory Council’s astrophysics subcommittee.

Astro-H is the sixth in a series of X-ray astronomy missions developed by JAXA. It was expected to launch on a Japanese H-2A launch vehicle from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center in 2013, carrying the NASA-built Soft X-Ray Spectrometer, a $44 million telescope in development at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Morse said the Soft X-Ray Spectrometer team members are “racing to try to beat their delivery dates on a number of items in the near-term,” including completion of engineering units that will be integrated and tested in Japan prior to launch, which Morse said is now slated for early 2014. He said the X-ray telescope is scheduled to undergo a critical design review, a programmatic milestone in which a system’s design is finalized, in late June.

Morse is expected to meet with his JAXA counterparts at the end of April to discuss the path forward on Astro-H, with additional discussions planned later this summer, he told the subcommittee.

“At this time JAXA has asked NASA to maintain our existing schedule and interfaces, and we hope that Astro-H moves forward unabated but we have to be prepared for some possible adjustments that they may need to make,” Morse said.