The Rescue of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Orbital mechanics, multitasking, and a software glitch nearly ended a 12-year mission

6 min read
The Rescue of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory

24 August 2011—When the science and engineering team that operates the Chandra X-Ray Observatory celebrated the space telescope’s 12th year in orbit on 23 July, it was with a sense of real accomplishment—and also a collective sigh of relief. Just a few weeks earlier, the NASA satellite suffered the kind of mysterious failure that had the team worried that its long-lived instrument was about to sign off. It also had the astrophysics community concerned that its chief tool for taking X-ray images of the universe might be lost.

The nearly 4.8-metric-ton telescope is capable of imaging the hottest objects in the universe. Notably, it has provided astonishing insights into the anatomy and physiology of black holes and their crucial role in galaxy formation and destruction.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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