Japan’s Space Junk Collector Is In Deep Trouble

Posted: Feb 1 2017, 1:24pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 1 2017, 1:35pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Japan’s Space Junk Collector is in Deep Trouble
An HTV approaching the space station. Credit:JAXA/NASA
 

National space agency's junk removal experiment may have failed in orbit

Japanese space junk collector released from International Space Station has apparently malfunctioned. 

HTV-6, also known as Kounotori 6 cargo ship, arrived at the space station in December and delivered nearly 5 tons of supplies for the astronauts. It also brought along a 700-meter long tether that is designed to grab large pieces of space debris and to clear up tons of junk orbiting around the Earth.

The electrodynamic tether was due to extend out from the cargo ship this week, but scientists at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are not sure whether it arrived at the intended location and performed the task.

The tether is made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum and was created in collaboration with a local fishnet company.

The electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth’s magnetic field is expected to slow down space junk and pull it into a lower and lower orbit until it enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burns up.

“The tether uses our fishnet plaiting technology, but it was really tough to intertwine the very thin materials," company engineer Katsuya Suzuki said in a statement early December.

"The length of the tether this time is 700 meter (2,300 feet), but eventually it's going to need to be 5,000 to 10,000 meter-long to slow down the targeted space junk.” He further said. “If we are successful in this trial, the next step will be another test attaching one tip of the tether to a targeted object.”

Although space is often imagined as deserted place, the region around the Earth is cluttered with millions of pieces of man-made debris. These pieces are traveling at a speed of around 17,500 mph, which is fast enough to damage a satellite or even a spacecraft.

Most of the space debris consists of pieces of satellites that are destroyed into the outer space. The unintended spacecrafts explosions also end up producing a huge amount of trash or junk in space.

An estimated 500,000 pieces of debris have been detected floating around in the space since the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957. This ever-increasing debris is posing a threat to future space missions, especially to those with human aboard.

Japan’s space junk collector is aiming to reduce the amount harmful debris from orbit. But JAXA’s spacecraft in the orbit had stopped sending data to ground-based facility shortly after the liftoff, making it difficult  for researchers to assess the progression of the garbage collecting device.

JAXA is hoping to fix the problem until Saturday, before the cargo ship burns up in Earth’s atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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