Japan sends “junk collector” into space to clean over 100 million pieces of space debris

Image from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

A Japanese cargo ship called “Kounotori” (stork in Japanese) blasted off to space from the Tanegashima Space Center in Tanegashima island, Kagoshima prefecture on Friday, December 9, bound for the International Space Station to deliver supplies such as food, water and other supplies, including new lithium-ion batteries for the station’s solar power system.

The ship also carries with it a “space junk collector” designed to clean up over 100 million pieces of orbiting debris that poses a growing threat to future space explorations.

Image from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
Image from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

According to Sputnik News, much of the space junk moves around the Earth at a speed of 17,500 mph, causing the potential for countless collisions.

The space junk collector uses what is called “electrodynamic tether” made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum. The electrodynamic wire as long as six football fields, is designed to catch debris that can destroy orbiting spacecraft.

“The length of the tether this time is 700 meters (2,300 feet), but eventually it’s going to need to be 5,000 to 10,000 meter-long to slow down the targeted space junk,” Katsuya Suzuki, an engineer from Japanese fishnet manufacturer Nitto Seimo that helped Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in creating the junk collector.

The space junk collector works by slowing down fast-moving space debris by the electricity generated by the electrodynamic tether and will be pulled into a lower orbit, where it will eventually re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, burning into ash in the process before it has a chance to crash into Earth’s surface.