Japan has launched a cargo ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS), carrying a ‘space junk‘ collector that was made with the help of a fishnet company. Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are experimenting with a tether to pull junk out of orbit around Earth, clearing up tonnes of space clutter including cast-off equipment from old satellites and pieces of rocket.
- The cargo ship is also carrying other materials for the ISS including batteries and drinking water for the astronauts living there.
- More than 50 years of human space exploration since the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957 has produced this hazardous belt of orbiting debris.
- There are estimated to be more than 100 million pieces in orbit, posing a growing threat to future space exploration.
- Researchers are using a so-called electrodynamic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium.
- The idea is that one end of the strip will be attached to debris which can damage working equipment—there are hundreds of collisions every year.
- The capsule — called Kounotori, or white stork — contains nearly 5 tons of food, water and other supplies, including six new lithium-ion batteries for the station’s solar power system. Astronauts will conduct spacewalks next month to replace the old nickel-hydrogen batteries that store energy generated by the station’s big solar panels.
- This is Japan’s sixth shipment to the 250-mile-high outpost, currently home to Pesquet, two Americans and three Russians. It launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.