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Japan's Space Mission Comes with a 2296-Foot Whip Junk Collector

Dec 13, 2016 08:46 AM EST
Japan Launches Space Junk Collector
Japan's space mission proves successful with the launch of their junk collector.
(Photo : Rocket System Corporation via Getty Images)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) last Friday. Along the unmanned cargo ship was the Kounotori 6, a space junk collector.

Embedded with a 2,300-foot electrodynamic tether (EDT), the Kounotori 6 is meant to swat away space junk out of orbit. The vessel was developed by a local fishnet manufacturer, Nitto Seimo. The cord's length is 2,300 feet but can extend to 16,400 and 32,800 feet long. This is to slow down targeted space junk.

"To preserve the outer space environment for future generations, it is necessary to remove existing large pieces of space debris," according to JAXA. However, JAXA has only one shot at using the "space whip." as the cargo shuttle will burn up upon re-entry to Earth.

This mighty device by JAXA will prove to be useful in space as last May, the ISS was damaged by space junk, particularly a tiny flying piece of debris. The debris had hit the window of the station's cupola. Scientists aboard the ISS speculate that the debris is a small piece of metal.

"The current space environment is growing increasingly hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts," said Donald Kessler retired head of NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office and chair of the committee, adding, "NASA needs to determine the best path forward for tackling the multifaceted problems caused by meteoroids and orbital debris that put human and robotic space operations at risk."

The cargo launch by JAXA is vital to the ISS following the failed launch of Russian Progress early this month. Over the past two years, several other cargo launches have failed. As for JAXA, this is their sixth launch to the ISSS.

"Spaceflight's not an easy thing," stated NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, adding, "We just have to keep pressing ourselves to do the right thing, make sure we're doing all the right tests ... so that we don't have these problems.'

Supplies included in the cargo launch include food, water, and batteries. These batteries will be more than helpful as ISS crew members plan to replace the old nickel-hydrogen batteries.

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