The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency has announced that it has successfully launched a cargo ship on Friday. Nicknamed the Kounotori, the vessel was designed to be a heavy-duty space junk collector.
At 10:27 pm, the space junk collector was launched from the Tanegashima Island, in the south of Japan. The space junk collector was carried into space by an H-IIB rocket. According to ground control, fifteen minutes after liftoff, the space junk collector was disconnected from its carrier rockets, and placed into an orbit.
The space junk collector is actually a large tether, having a length of 700 meters. If successfully implemented, the new junk collector will help scientists clear away some of the debris left behind by past space missions.
According to the recent estimates, since Russia launched its first artificial satellite back in the late ‘50s, Earth has developed its own belt of floating objects, just like Saturn. However, unlike Saturn’s ring which is composed of water ice and rocky materials, our is composed of spaceship leftovers.
The junk belt around our planet now houses more than 100 million particles, with different sizes and configurations. The scientists working on the projects have declared that these particles floating around our planet can endanger future space mission since the risk of collision is very high.
In fact, all shuttles going up to the International Space Station have reported colliding with some of these particles on more than one occasion. If the project is successfully tested, similar shuttles may be launched, in the future, in order to clear out the space debris.
The space junk collector is actually a very large tether, similar to a fishing net. Harnessing the power of electromagnetism, the space junk collector is composed of thousands of thin wires made of aluminum and stainless steel.
After the space junk collector is launched, one end of the tether will attach itself to a metal debris. Then, as the tether swings back and forth through our planet’s magnetic field, it slows down the metal fragment, pushing it into a lower atmosphere. Earth’s gravity will kick in and pull down fragment.
Eventually, the metal fragment will enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up. At the moment, JAXA is experimenting with an only 700-meter long tether. However, should the test be successful, the Japanese space agency declared that the tether would need to be at least 10,000 meter-long in order to clear away all the space junk.
Image source: Wikipedia
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