March 24, 2017

Failed Japanese 'space junk' experiment falls back to earth

08 February 2017, 12:40 | Wayne Allen

An artist's impression of the more than 100 million pieces of debris in orbit around the Earth

An artist's impression of the more than 100 million pieces of debris in orbit around the Earth

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. The tether was supposed to generate electricity by swings through the Earth's magnetic field, which it would use to slow down space junk until it was pulled it into a lower orbit where it would ultimately burn up. The Kounotori craft, which launched to the ISS in December with supplies, would be loaded with garbage from the ISS. Even a tiny piece of space debris could damage or destroy critical equipment when it's moving at extreme speeds. On board was also an experimental magnetized tether meant to gather space junk in orbit around Earth.

"It is certainly disappointing that we ended the mission without completing one of the main objectives", he said.

More than 50,000 pieces of debris are now whirling around our planet, including fragments of nonfunctional spacecrafts and abandoned satellites.

Right now, there are more than 100 million pieces of space junk flying above us that built up after more than 50 years of space exploration, including bits of rockets and old satellites. There are about 20,000 pieces of tracked debris now in orbit.

"We believe the tether did not get released", KITE researcher Koichi Inoue said, according to AFP.

The scale of the problem is staggering.

NASA is leading an initiative in addressing orbital debris issues.

But other spacecraft haven't been so lucky. In 2009, American and Russian satellites collided and created thousands of large pieces of rubble.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported last Tuesday that KITE failed its first test because a glitch prevented it from deploying its 2,300-foot long electrodynamic tether, made for snatching space junk out of orbit before pulling it down into Earth's atmosphere to be incinerated.

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