As technology expands, mankind has managed to litter trash both on the planet and around it. Debris in space has become increasingly problematic lately, so the Japanese space agency JAXA has developed plans for a spacecraft that utilizes a tether to snare and destroy the trash.

In this past month, a spacecraft named Kounotori 6 was successfully launched, and after delivering supplies to the International Space Station, it will remain in orbit for its second purpose: to reduce the more substantial pieces of waste in space.

Kuonotori space vehicle, international space station, free image

A Japanese Kuonotori spacecraft

Collaborating with Nitto Seimo, a fishing net manufacturer, the technology features a newly developed electrodynamic tether, or EDT, made of thin wires of aluminum and stainless steel. After identifying a target, through the usage of a GPS and optical cameras to help operators guide it, the EDT will then generate sufficient energy through the Earth’s magnetic field to slow down and change the objects’ orbit, thus dragging it into the atmosphere where it would promptly be incinerated.

Space Debris and Why It Is a Threat

Space Debris, or “space junk”, refers to the defunct man-made particles that remain in orbit around the Earth, generally including “nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris and fragmentation debris”, as listed on NASA’s website.

There are over 500,000 pieces that are larger in size than a marble, in addition to millions of miniscule pieces, all traveling at speeds up to 17,500 mph.

Space debris in low earth orbit

Space debris in low earth orbit

The debris’ incredibly high speeds pose the risk of colliding with and easily puncturing satellites and other costly human habitats, like the International Space Station. In past occurrences, it was discovered that even paint flecks colliding with spacecrafts have resulted in windows in need of replacement. Because of this, many space agencies and private companies have been tracking the debris, though in reality, “The greatest risk to space missions comes from non-trackable debris,” says Nicholas Johnson, NASA chief scientist for orbital debris.

 

 

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Sophia Xiang

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