Japan to Smack Space Junk With 2.3K-Foot Whip

If all goes well, a 6-mile tether could follow
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2016 8:54 AM CST
Japan to Smack Space Junk With 2.3K-Foot Whip
Screenshot of JAXA video shows EDT's deployment.   (JAXA/YouTube)

Can a whip as long as six football fields destroy some of the 500,000 pieces of space junk spinning around Earth at 17,500 miles per hour? Japan's space agency sure hopes so. JAXA launched its Kounotori 6 spacecraft on Friday with tons of supplies bound for the International Space Station, where it's expected to arrive on Wednesday, reports NPR. Also on board is a 2,300-feet electrodynamic tether, or EDT, made of aluminum and steel, in the works for more than a decade. JAXA says it will use an electric current and Earth's magnetic field to slow down debris and shove it out of orbit and toward Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up. The EDT and the Kounotori, which will also carry waste from the ISS, will then meet the same fate.

It's unclear how many pieces of space junk might be destroyed using the EDT, but this is mostly a test. If all goes well, JAXA plans to create a second tether up to six miles in length, reports Bloomberg. The BBC notes this is one of a few efforts underway to tackle space junk, which poses hazards for astronauts and their equipment. In May, for example, a tiny piece of space junk—possibly a speck of paint—chipped a window in the ISS' Cupola observatory, reports Christian Science Monitor. As the ISS wouldn't stand a chance against some debris as large as a bus, it has to be moved to avoid an impact, says project chief Koichi Inoue. Kounotori's EDT "is a promising candidate to deorbit the debris objects at low cost," JAXA says. (You can now adopt space junk.)

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