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Unmanned Japanese probe fails to remove space debris

08 February 2017

The Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment (KITE) flunked its first orbital test when a glitch prevented it from properly deploying a 2,300 foot-long electrodynamic tether made to grab pieces of space junk, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported January 31. Though the experimental segment of the mission was a failure, Kounotori did successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station after launching in December.

Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of known pieces of space junk, which pose an ever-rising threat to satellites as well as manned spacecraft. After dropping off the goods and being refilled with ISS trash, the spacecraft was to deploy a 2,300-foot-long tether to lasso space junk and drag it back to Earth. The ISS must be shielded from objects but has difficulty picking up pieces that are smaller than two inches, and as more stuff gets put into space, the space junk problem worsens, leading authorities to try to figure out ways to clean it up. There are about 20,000 pieces of tracked debris now in orbit. On Monday, it re-entered the atmosphere aboard the vessel without capturing any space junk.

Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) were trying to test an electrodynamic "tether"- created with the help of a fishing net company - to slow down the orbiting rubbish and bring it into a lower orbit. The debris would then be directed toward Earth were it would burn up on reentry into the atmosphere.

At least that's how it was supposed to go. JAXA scientists had only a week to work in, and they ran out of time. Both the craft and the space junk would, in theory, incinerate when they re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. "It is, of course, disappointing that we have completed the mission without achieving one of its main objectives", he said. The Japanese effort, though unsuccessful, is hopefully a sign of things to come.

Removing orbital debris is an admirable goal.

Unmanned Japanese probe fails to remove space debris