Japanese mission to remove dangerous space debris fails
07 Feb 2017
An experimental Japanese mission to remove dangerous debris from orbit has failed, which comes as a setback to efforts to deal with the risk posed by nearly two million bits of junk currently swirling around our planet.
Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had been trying to test an experimental system in which a long cable would be deployed from the Kounotori 6 satellite and directed towards a piece of space debris. On attaching to the piece of debris, the tether would slow down the object, forcing it to re-enter into earth's atmosphere where it would burn up. The new system had a rocky start when mission planners failed to deploy the cable.
According to commentators, the need for an effective space-based garbage removal system is starting to get pressing, making this failure a setback for JAXA, as well as the global community. There are nearly 20,000 pieces of tracked debris currently in orbit, and potentially millions of bits of smaller items swirling around the earth.
The objects included everything from discarded tools to debris from solid rocket motors, paint flakes, and also frozen coolant from nuclear-powered satellites.
The Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment (KITE) failed its first orbital test due to a glitch that prevented proper deployment of a 700-meter-long (2,300 feet) electrodynamic tether made to grab pieces of space junk, according to JAXA.
JAXA's space-junk-removing tether was designed to latch on to a piece of orbiting debris and then pull it down into earth's atmosphere for a fiery disposal.