Japan Launching ‘Space Junk’ Collector

outer-spacefrom – phys.org 

Japan launched a cargo ship Friday bound for the International Space Station, carrying a ‘space junk’ collector that was made with the help of a fishnet company.

The vessel, dubbed “Kounotori” (stork in Japanese), blasted off from the southern island of Tanegashima just before 10:27 pm local time (1327 GMT) attached to an H-IIB rocket.

Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are experimenting with a tether to pull junk out of orbit around Earth, clearing up tonnes of space clutter including cast-off equipment from old satellites and pieces of rocket.

The launch was successful as “the satellite was removed from the rocket” and put into the planned orbit about 15 minutes after the liftoff, JAXA spokesman Nobuyoshi Fujimoto on Tanegashima told AFP.

More than 50 years of human space exploration since the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957 has produced this hazardous belt of orbiting debris.

There are estimated to be more than 100 million pieces in orbit, posing a growing threat to future space exploration, scientists say.

Researchers are using a so-called electrodynamic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium.

The idea is that one end of the strip will be attached to debris which can damage working equipment—there are hundreds of collisions every year.

The electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth’s magnetic field is expected to have a slowing effect on the space junk, which should, scientists say, pull it into a lower and lower orbit.

Eventually the detritus will enter the Earth’s atmosphere, burning up harmlessly long before it has a chance to crash to the planet’s surface.

JAXA worked on the project with Japanese fishnet manufacturer Nitto Seimo to develop the cord, which has been about 10 years in the making.

“The tether uses our fishnet plaiting technology, but it was really tough to intertwine the very thin materials,” company engineer Katsuya Suzuki told AFP.

“The length of the tether this time is 700 metre (2,300 feet), but eventually it’s going to need to be 5,000 to 10,000 metre-long to slow down the targeted space junk,” he added.

Previous experiments using a tether have been done in recent years.

Another spokesman for the space agency has said it hopes to put the junk collection system into more regular use by the middle of the next decade.

“If we are successful in this trial, the next step will be another test attaching one tip of the tether to a targeted object,” he added.

The cargo ship launched Friday is also carrying other materials for the ISS including batteries and drinking water for the astronauts living there.


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4 years ago

Why don’t the Japanese just sent Mothra up to eat the space junk? Problem solved.

4 years ago

I thought recycling space junk was the way to go to have refined metals already in space orbit converted into useful items either for use in orbit or on the moon. Burning up junk by deorbit may be cheaper than recycling but making things in space is better than always bringing things from the surface. I am not moving to space but Stephen Hawking says for humanity to survive as a species we need to expand beyond this world into this solar system first and create new habitats and Terra formed moons and planets then to the stars. He said we need to become a multi planet specie to lessen the probability of human extinction.

R French
4 years ago

The cheapest way for the United States to join Japan in this endeavor is to tether Harry and Nancy together in space. They’ve nearly slowed America to a stand-still. Just think what they’ll do with all that junk up there.

4 years ago

Y don’t we do this too………sounds like a great Idea and may save lives too

Jerry Milam
4 years ago

Just how does “The electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth’s magnetic field … have a slowing effect on the space junk”? What force does that produce?
How do they attach a filament to each piece of junk?
Either this expensive plan is not well thought out, or the writer didn’t understand it well enough to explain it.

4 years ago

The Japs are good at making nets. they created these huge drift nets that are miles long for fishing that kills thousands of fish and mammals including dolphins at a time. Because of these nets they are over fishing the pacific and causing fish to start to become scarce. Of course what do you expect from a country that hunts down whales and kills them to eat them even though they are a endangered species.

4 years ago

good idea. will follow this.

4 years ago
Reply to  tom

Can you say “narcissist?”

Ivan Berry
4 years ago

Oh, my word. Doesn’t this also contribute to global cooling by blocking some portion of the sun’s rays from reaching earth? Looks like space debris could be something Al Gore should invest in. A new slogan could be, “Let’s stop Japan, the enemy of man from seining the junk in space. And no fooling, we need global cooling to save the human race.”
Now, that’s Climate Change that should be pleasing to everyone in the pocket of the Left’s big spenders (spending your money–never their own).

4 years ago
Reply to  Ivan Berry

Yes and DiCaprio can fly around the world on his private jet telling the ignorant peasants how soon all the cities on earth will be buried under a mountain of ice, if we don’t immediately stop Japan from collecting all the debris orbiting the planet.

StC Don
4 years ago

This is great, finally cleaning up all the junk that is in orbit endangering the Space Station and active satellites. I’m wondering though, when the “junk” burns up in the atmosphere, won’t that contribute to the pollution in our atmosphere ?

4 years ago
Reply to  StC Don

Not really. Although it sounds like a huge amount, it is insignificant compared to the billions of naturally occurring meteorites that fall and burn.

Gloria P. Sterling
4 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Where will they put the trash? Don’t we have enough already here on earth?

4 years ago

As the young people say now “OMG!” Gloria, did you read ANY of the article? Do you not understand “burn up in the atmosphere?”

Larry Pierson
4 years ago
Reply to  StC Don

the mass of the ‘junk’ in space is so small compared to the mass of the atmosphere that it will be imperceptible. Further, we are being bombarded with tons of micrometeorites on a daily basis, which doesn’t seem to have a negative impact on the air either.

4 years ago

Sounds like a very creative and cost effective solution to address the growing problem of space debris that is accumulating in the useable orbital area of space around the planet needed for communication and military satellites.

Fulton Phillips
4 years ago
Reply to  PaulE

so, why does each person(group) that puts something in space not have to take it out of space when it is no longer useful?

4 years ago


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