Science

Japan's Space Junk Collection Mission Ends In Failure

Japan's Space Junk Collection Mission Ends In Failure

An experimental Japanese mission to remove unsafe debris from orbit has failed, which comes as a setback to efforts to deal with the risk posed by almost two million bits of junk now swirling around our planet.

The experimental Japanese probe failed in its mission to clear space junk from the Earths orbit. The tether was supposed to generate electricity by swings through the Earth's magnetic field, which it would use to slow down space junk until it was pulled it into a lower orbit where it would ultimately burn up. The test of the new system got off to a rocky start when mission planners couldn't even deploy the cable.

Expendable rocket stages, defunct satellites and random bits of metal traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour litter the space above Earth, threatening functioning satellites and people living in orbit. The tip of the tether, equipped with an end mass weighing 22kg, would attach itself to a piece of space debris, such as a dead satellite.

There are still more than 100 million pieces of waste revolving around the planet.

This experiment was to serve as a basis for the subsequent constitution of a much larger rope (5000 to 10 000 meters) deemed necessary to efficiently clean up the space. Problems arose quickly and JAXA suspect that the tether was unable to be deployed.

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The Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment (KITE) was to test the deployment of a long electrodynamic tether extending out into space.

Researchers with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency developed and began testing an electrodynamic, 700-meter-long tether-like device, which was created to extend from the body of a cargo ship bringing supplies to astronauts at the ISS.

However all did not go according to plan - "We believe the tether did not get released", leading researcher Koichi Inoue told The Guardian.

While this test failed, it is likely that JAXA, and other space agencies, will continue to test different methods of removing space junk from orbit.


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