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Japan Launches ‘Space Garbage Truck’ Into Orbit to Clean Up Space Debris

Dec 13, 2016 04:48 AM EST

The outer space could do with some cleaning up, and a Japanese space vehicle has a solution.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) recently launched into orbit a space junk collector to clean up space debris. Kounotori, which means stork in Japanese, blasted off from the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima on Dec. 9 onboard an H-IIB rocket, Phys.org reports.

The junk collector consists of a mesh material created by the 106-year-old Japanese fishing net manufacturer Nitto Seimo. The so-called electrodynamic tether is made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum, which generates electricity as it passes Earth's magnetic field to slow the debris and pull it into a lower orbit. The garbage will eventually enter the Earth's atmosphere, burning up without harming anyone on Earth.

The experiment is part of an international effort to safeguard astronauts, space stations, satellites and other infrastructures against space debris, which could travel up to 17,500 miles an hour, Bloomberg reports.

"We need to take action on this massive amount of debris," Koichi Inoue, as an associate principal researcher at JAXA, told Bloomberg. "People haven't been injured by the debris yet, but satellites have. We have to act."

According to the report, the Earth's orbit is cluttered with over half-a-million bits of space trash mostly from rocket and satellite remnants, and they could cause dangerous collisions each year.

JAXA worked with Nitto Seimo to develop the cord, which has been 10 years in the making. Currently, the tether measures 700 meters long, but it will eventually be expanded to 5,000 to 10,000 meters to slow down the targeted space junk. The creators spend around $195,000 to $295,000 to build the machine that will make the conductive material. JAXA officials are hoping to put the junk collection system into more regular use by the middle of the next decade.

Kounotori debris collector was launched in a cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS), which also carried drinking water and six lithium-ion batteries as a replacement for the nickel-hydrogen batteries that currently store energy from the space station's solar array.

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