THE WORLD OF SPACE JUNK


An experimental Japanese mission to clear 'space junk' or rubbish from the Earth's orbit has ended in failure, officials said Monday, in an embarassment for Tokyo.
Over 100 million pieces of garbage are thought to be whizzing around the planet, including cast-off equipment from old satellites and bits of rocket, which experts say could pose risks for future space exploration.
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 hope was that the clutter -- built up after more than five decades of human space exploration -- would eventually enter the Earth's atmosphere and burn up harmlessly before it had a chance to crash into the planet.
The 700-metre (2,300-foot) long tether -- made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium -- was due to be extended out from a cargo ship launched in December carrying supplies for astronauts at the International Space Station.
Problems arose quickly, however, and technicians tried for days to remedy the situation but only had a one-week window to carry out the mission before the vessel reentered the Earth's atmosphere before dawn on Monday.
'We believe the tether did not get released', leading researcher Koichi Inoue told reporters.
'It is certainly disappointing that we ended the mission without completing one of the main objectives,' he said.

Over 100 million pieces of garbage are thought to be whizzing around the planet, including cast-off equipment from old satellites and bits of rocket, which experts say could pose risks for future space exploration
Over 100 million pieces of garbage are thought to be whizzing around the planet, including cast-off equipment from old satellites and bits of rocket, which experts say could pose risks for future space exploration

The disappointment is the latest failure to hit JAXA and comes just weeks after the agency had to abort a mission that sought to use a mini-rocket to send a satellite into orbit.
The agency also abandoned a pricey ultra-high-tech satellite launched in February last year to search for X-rays emanating from black holes and galaxy clusters after losing contact with the spacecraft.
The rocket bound for the International Space Station carrying the vessel blasted off from the southern island of Tanegashima at around 10:30 pm local time (13:30 GMT).
JAXA worked on the project with Japanese fishnet manufacturer Nitto Seimo to develop the cord, which has been about 10 years in the making.

The 700 metre long space tether was due to be extended out from a Japanese cargo ship that was launched in December 2016
The 700 metre long space tether was due to be extended out from a Japanese cargo ship that was launched in December 2016. dailymail

THE WORLD OF SPACE JUNK

Since the first object, Sputnik One, was launched into space 53 years ago, mankind has launched thousands of spacecraft, satellites and rockets into space. 
This has created a swarm of tens of millions of pieces of debris.
The rubbish circling the planet comes from old rockets, abandoned satellites and missile shrapnel.
But it also includes a missing spatula, a lost glove and a stray toothbrush.
Bags of rubbish ejected into space by cosmonauts on board the Mir Space Station also still pose a risk.
Among the more unusual items to be added to the list of space junk was a spatula dropped by astronaught Piers Sellers while conducting repairs on the space shuttle discovery in 2006.
A tool bag was lost by astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn in 2008 and it added to the hazards in orbit until it burned up in 2009.
A glove was lost by astronaut Ed White on the first US space-walk and a pair of pliers were lost during a space walk in 2007. 

'The tether uses our fishnet plaiting technology, but it was really tough to intertwine the very thin materials,' company engineer Katsuya Suzuki told AFP.
'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.
Previous experiments using a tether have been done in recent years.
At the time, a spokesman for the space agency said it hoped to put the junk collection system into more regular use by the middle of the next decade. dailymail


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