Now here is something that I found interesting. Last week, Japan launched a cargo ship to for the International Space Station, which is 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 attached to an H-IIB rocket. Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are experimenting with a tether that pulls junk out of orbit around Earth, clearing up tons of space junk such as 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 said.
More than 50 years of human space exploration (since the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957) ha produce a belt of hazardous material orbiting the earth. There are estimated to be more than 100 million pieces in orbit, which poses a growing threat to future space exploration, scientists say.
To address this problem, researchers developed a so-called "electrodynamic tether" made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum. The idea is that one end of the strip will be attached to the debris which can damage working equipment—there are hundreds of collisions every year.
As the tether swings through the Earth’s magnetic field, it creates electricity which they expect to have a slowing effect on the space junk, which should pull it into a lower and lower orbit. Eventually the junk 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 Nitto Seimo, a fishnet manufacturer, to develop the cord over the last 10 years. “The tether uses our fishnet plaiting technology, but it was really tough to intertwine the very thin materials,” company engineer Katsuya Suzuki said. “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.
Another spokesman for the space agency has said it hopes to put the junk collection system into 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 also carryed other materials for the ISS including batteries and drinking water for the astronauts living there.