Japan’s Solution to Space Junk

By: Brian T

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Ever since man ventured into space, we have tossed things into our orbit without blinking an eye. We have abandoned stuff from paint flecks, to used up rockets up in space, but now that is coming back to bite us. The problem of space junk has gotten so bad, that in 2011, the National Research Council announced that junk in space has reached critical mass and the problem has only worsened since then. Thankfully, Japan has created an anti-space junk measure to help mitigate the problem and will be tested for a before burning up in the atmosphere. Will this be enough to stop the problem, or has the issue gone too far to reverse?

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is sending the Kounotori 6 resupply vehicle to the International Space Station. At the end of that mission, it will begin its descent to Earth, extending a six-football field long cable designed to knock potentially harmful chunks of space debris out of orbit. The anti-space junk measure, known as the Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment is a 2,296-foot-long cable is weighed at the end with a 44-pound mass. The cable’s movement through Earth’s magnetic field will generate an electric current that will direct space junk back towards Earth where it will be destroyed.

 

Space junk has become a very serious issue with over 500,000 pieces of it in orbit. Over the years, Earth has developed a blanket of space debris. The problem is only getting worse – in 2009 a Russian satellite collided with an American satellite creating 2,000 new pieces of debris, and in 2007, China used a missile to blow a satellite out of orbit creating a 3,000-chunk mess. The debris has reached a critical threshold known as the Kessler Syndrome, where there is so much debris that collisions between these bits and pieces will create even more debris resulting in a snowball effect where space junk is being generated faster than it decays.

 

The world has been very slow at reacting to the large and pressing issue of space debris. Recently, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden admitted that “We are among those [space agencies] that’s not putting a lot of money into debris removal,”. There are many projects in development such as a satellite that would use a net or arm to capture or redirect other satellites, but that project won’t launch until 2023 at the earliest. The issue of space junk is far from gone, but the making of the KITE is an important step in the right direction of cleaning up our mess in space.

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