Japanese experiment proves that cleaning up space junk is hard
00:43, Feb 8, 2017
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Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) were trying to test an experimental system in which a long cable would be deployed from the Kounotori 6 satellite and directed toward a piece of space debris. 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.
Although the vessel successfully sent supplies to astronauts at the International Space Station, it could not clear the debris, reported IANS. Even a tiny piece of space debris could damage or destroy critical equipment when it's moving at extreme speeds. It's a frustrating setback given the mounting risks posed by the almost two million bits of junk now swirling around our planet.
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. Over 100 million pieces of junk have been left in orbit since we started exploring space about 60 years ago.
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For example, in 2009, a dead Russian satellite collided with an operational USA satellite, producing about 700 pieces of space junk in the process. The general idea is that the electrodynamic tether would attract electrons from the ambient plasma in the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere and that these electrons could power a "current drive".
On Sunday, the spacecraft and all that rubbish was incinerated in Earth's atmosphere as HTV-6 made a controlled deorbit, safely plunging down over the Pacific Ocean. At the moment, NASA tracks about 500,000 pieces of space junk the size of a marble or larger to make sure these pieces of debris don't threaten any needed satellites or spacecraft in space.
An experimental Japanese mission to remove unsafe debris from orbit has ended in failure.
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