XMM-Newton-NEWS  #83,    28-Oct-2008

XMM-Newton Science Operations Centre at
ESA's European Space Astronomy Centre,
P.O. Box - Apdo. 78, 28691 Villanueva de la Cañada, Madrid, Spain

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XMM-Newton to Restart Observing Next Week

On Saturday 18 October ESA lost contact with the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory (see http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEM268RTKMF_index_0.html). XMM-Newton uses different ground stations depending on which gives the strongest signal with one of the spacecraft's two antennas which point in different directions. On Saturday evening XMM-Newton was approaching perigee passage with the instruments in safe configurations and communicating normally with the Santiago ground station in Chile. After the spacecraft moved out of visibility from Santiago it was expected to be picked-up by ESA's Villafranca ground station in Spain about an hour later. The usual time-tagged command had been loaded on-board to change the operating antenna to the one pointing towards Villafranca. However, the telemetry signal from the spacecraft was not detected at the expected time and standard recovery procedures did not re-establish contact.

These activities were repeated the next day, but the problem was still present even when other ESA ground stations were used. This confirmed that the loss of contact was related to either an on-board problem or a catastrophic event in orbit. On Monday 20 October images of the track of XMM-Newton against the night sky taken by amateur astronomers in Germany's Starkenburg observatory showed that the satellite was still in one piece. Other ground based telescopes at Zimmerwald in Switzerland of the astronomy institute of the University of Bern and the ESA Space Debris telescope at Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain), the German FGAN radar near Bonn and NASA and US Space Surveillance network also observed the satellite and it was possible to confirm that it was in its expected orbit.

The next step on Tuesday 21 October was to use the more powerful ESA 35 meter ground station at New Norcia (Western Australia) which was pointed in the direction of XMM-Newton using a special radio-science mode. A weak signal was detected from the spacecraft helping confirm suspicions that the antenna switch was stuck in an intermediate position. Engineers at ESOC, supported by European Industry and experts from other ESA sites, attempted to command the spacecraft, but the commanding threshold was still not reached by around 8 dB. Consequently ESOC declared a spacecraft emergency and requested support from NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone antenna. Due to its location Goldstone provides visibility of the spacecraft when it is very close to the Earth so allowing a higher signal power at the spacecraft. ESOC sent commands that moved the antenna switch back to its last working position and then managed to obtain radio contact with the spacecraft with ESA's 15-metre ground station in Villafranca on Wednesday 22 October around 18:10 Central European Summer Time (CEST).

Since then XMM-Newton is safe and fully under control by the mission control team at ESOC. There were no unexpected events during the 4-days without normal communications. Currently there are no plans to move the antenna switch and investigations involving ESOC, ESTEC, and industry experts are continuing. Until the failure mode is better understood, we do not plan to use the available backup switch and instead are concentrating on operational modes that do not require the use of these switches:

A.N. Parmar
XMM-Newton Mission Manager

Yours sincerely,
XMM-Newton SOC