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Glitches bump ROSAT off the fast track.

ROSAT, the German-U.S. British, research satellite launched last June, has already produced X-ray and ultraviolet images of the universe with unprecedented clarity and wavelength range (see story, p. 408). The satellite's two telescopes depend on three gyroscopes to point them toward their celestial targets, but on May 12 one of these critical devices went awry. This has forced research teams to drastically revise their observing plans, at least for most of the summer. No longer able to move rapidly from target to target, the telescopes are now making fewer observations and spending much more time on each.

Joachine Trumper, director of ROSAT research at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, says the satellite currently observes one target per day instead of the 10 to 15 planned. He notes that software experts in Germany plan to reprogram the satellite in August so that its sun sensors and magnetometers can take the place of the ailing pointer.

Tinkering with software also seems critical for correcting another problem plaguing the satellite. It's no mean feat to convert the raw data from ROSAT's two telescopes into usable images. And ROSAT programmers still have not ironed out all the bugs in a software program designed to create such images from a wide variety of telescope data. For this reason, most scientists who have conducted ROSAT observations since February have yet to receive their processed images.

"The data are sitting on the ground on magnetic tapes," says David N. Burrows of Penn State University in University Park, who has received some but not all of his images. "The problem is that the programs that read those magnetic tapes and generate useful information for scientists to look at isn't working right yet. It's very frustrating."

This week, Trumper told SCIENCE NEWS that the software has been refined and that ROSAT researches should begin receiving their data in July.
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Title Annotation:correcting Roentgen Satellite's technical problems
Author:Cowen, Ron
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 29, 1991
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