The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, tried to perform an innovative maneuver that would clean 2,300 feet of space from junk. However, as the space probe conducted the tactic, it failed and immediately started to fell toward Earth.

A group of scientists at JAXA developed a trap-trash mechanism that consisted on the manufacture of an electrodynamic, 700-meter-long tether device. The researchers hoped that after the cargo had achieved the pre-designed mission, they could release the tether (which was constructed with wires of stainless steel and aluminum) in order to slow down the orbit speed of the space junk and catch it afterward.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency tested an early space junk removal tether prototype using its HTV-6 robotic cargo ship, as seen in this artist’s illustration. Image Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

After the cargo could recollect the largest amount of trash possible, the team was going to lower the orbit of it for then releasing it and producing the burning of the trash during the descent to Earth’s atmosphere. However, after several days of attempts regarding the release of the tether, the Japanese team gave up and brought back the cargo to Earth without any space junk.

What is space junk?

The composition of space junk consists mostly of all the debris that satellites and spaceships have left behind when colliding or collapsing to Earth. This debris starts orbiting the Earth, and it represents a serious problem to astronauts in general.

According to recent reports, there are about 100 million pieces of rubbish that circle the Earth, although researchers are not completely sure about the magnitude of the problem. The explanation of this is that a vast majority of the known debris has a pretty small size (smaller than a baseball), which makes it more difficult for researchers to actually detect the trash.

In this case, space junk is representing a serious trouble to all space companies and agencies. The reported debris is able to travel at speeds of 17,000 mph. This means that the trash could harm any spacecraft that goes on its way and it could damage the integrity of the International Space Station (ISS) heavily.

The space junk issue has raised a lot of concerns among the scientific community as many research teams are looking for a way to work this problem. Among the techniques that have been considered by some agencies, there is the laser evaporation of the debris or sending small-sized satellites that could recollect some of the trash and fire it instantly.

However, none of these techniques have been sufficiently validated to start any experimentation as scientists are worried about the aggravation of the problem. As more time passes by before any valid solution, the debris keeps colliding with itself producing the break of the particles into pieces of smaller trash and making it difficult for any alternative of junk recollection.

“There is a wide and strong expert consensus on the pressing need to act now to begin debris removal activities,” Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office, said in a statement at the 2013 European Conference on Space Debris, held in Germany. “Our understanding of the growing space debris problem can be compared with our understanding of the need to address Earth’s changing climate some 20 years ago.”

Source: Christian Science Monitor