Japan recently made an attempt to clean the Earth’s orbit of the space debris. The mission, however, has sadly failed.
The orbital cleaning may sound absurd to some, but removing junk from the orbit is the need of the hour. The Earth’s orbit has over two million pieces of debris. Among these, almost 29,000 have a size bigger than 10 cm. A collision with an object this size could end up in fragmentation of a satellite. Even an object as big as 1 cm could penetrate the ISS shields. Any collision with the energy to mass ratio greater than 40 J/g can be catastrophic to a satellite.
The debris in space comes from discarded tools, solid rocket motors, paint flakes and frozen coolant from nuclear-powered satellites. The objects move around the planet at very high speeds which could cause damage to both spacecraft and human life.
At the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), researchers were testing an experimental system for removing space debris. A cable was to be deployed from the Kouotori 6 satellite towards a piece of space debris to make the object slow down and eventually enter the Earth’s atmosphere where it would burn to ashes. The first test of the system has failed as JAXA failed to deploy the cable.
The 700-meter long electrodynamic tether is made of thin wires, stainless steel, and aluminum. At the tip of the cable, a 48-pound mass lies, that is meant to attach itself to a piece of junk. The Earth’s magnetic field and a specially generated electric field are combined to create a force to change the relative position of the cable on the craft. Once the piece of debris would cling to the tether, it would slow down and enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
In December 2016, the Kountori 6 cargo ship left for the ISS loaded with supplies. The mission planners tried to deploy the cable for days but failed to do so in the given one week. Therefore, the Kounotori entered the Earth’s atmosphere back on the morning of 6th February.
The failure of the mission is unfortunate not just for JAXA but the entire world. The Japanese mission in cleaning the space was the first attempt, but there have been various other ideas. Some of these included the use of kamikaze satellites, solar sails and even balloons that could slow down the objects.
This attempt sadly failed, but it is not the end. More efforts will be made in the future, and we hope that we will eventually clean the Earth’s orbit of the debris.
What are your thoughts regarding this cleanliness mission? Comment below!