Credit: Starkenburg observatory
An unexpected radio silence from XMM-Newton caused a world-wide astronomical frenzy. The radio silence started on Saturday 18 October 2008 when XMM-Newton did not succeed in sending an expected signal to Earth. Many bad things could have happened, and astronomers feared the worst: total destruction of the spacecraft. A help call was sent out to all observatories while engineers and scientists at the XMM Operations Center worked frantically to figure out what went wrong. The first hopeful sign was an image from Germany's Starkenburg Observatory, which clearly showed XMM-Newton intact and following its prescribed orbit. This image (above) clearly shows the trail of XMM-Newton on the sky. On Tuesday morning ground controllers at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany managed to establish a feeble radio communication with the spacecraft. This connection suggested a failure in the on-board Radio Frequency (RF) switch. NASA's powerful 34-meter Deep Space Network then sent a command to reset the switch to its last working position, and full radio contact with the spacecraft was re-established. "XMM-Newton is now safe and fully under control", said Dietmar Heger, XMM-Newton Deputy Spacecraft Operations Manager at ESOC. "It's been a thrilling moment for our team. We even feared the spacecraft could be lost, but hard team work and a good star helped us turn this into a new success story for ESA."
Published: November 10, 2008
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Friday, 20-Apr-2012 15:27:51 EDT