Japan Launches Space Junk Collector

First Posted: Dec 12, 2016 05:08 AM EST

After more than five decades of human space exploration, there are at least 100 million pieces of orbiting debris, posing a growing threat to future space missions. Japan has launched a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 9, carrying the space junk collector.

The vessel called Kounotori launched from the southern island of Tanegashima aboard an H-IIB rocket. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) scientists have been experimenting with a tether to pull junk out of orbit around the planet. These space junks are mostly space clutter like equipment from old satellites and pieces of rockets.

Help From A Fish Net Maker Company

A 106-year-old Japanese fishing net maker helped out in providing the solution to the long-time problem with space junk. The company, Nitto Seimo Co., worked with the space agency to develop a mesh material to tether and drag bus-size pieces of junk into the atmosphere for burning. The project was 10 years in the making, Bloomberg reports.

"The tether uses our fishnet plaiting technology, but it was really tough to intertwine the very thin materials," Katsuya Suzuki, the company engineer, said as reported by"The length of the tether this time is 700 meter (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.

Innovative Technology: Magnetic Tether

According to Space Daily, the researchers used an electrodynamic tether made from thin wires of aluminum and stainless steel. The electricity made by the tether would have a slowing effect on the space junk, pulling it into a lower orbit. Eventually, as the space junk will touch the atmosphere, it will be burned until it lands on the planet's surface.

The company, Nitto Seimo Co., started making minnow nets in 1910. In 1925, it invented the knotless net machine, and today, it is one of the largest maker of fishing nets in Japan. About a decade ago, Japan's space agency asked the company to make a metal mesh line for the international clean-up effort. This project aims to protect and safeguard astronauts and about $900 billion worth of satellites and space stations.

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