Japanese space agency to use tether to clear space debris

Tokyo: The Japanese space agency will soon test a new technology that would deploy a 700-metre-long electrodynamic tether to grab large pieces of space debris and destroy them.

The technology would include a spacecraft that can deploy the electrodynamic tether (EDT) and guide it towards a piece of space junk.

The tether would latch onto the orbiting hunk of trash, and the operating spacecraft would then drag the debris down into the incinerator of Earth’s atmosphere.

A prototype system called the Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiments (KITE) arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on December 12 that will allow engineers to test the mechanisms that propel the tether when it is deployed in space.

The EDT spacecraft will target large pieces of space junk, ranging in size from a few hundred kilogrammes to a few tonnes, a JAXA representative was quoted as saying by ‘Space.com’.

There are various systems on the proposed spacecraft that would allow operators to control and monitor the position of the tether relative to the piece of space junk, including a current running through the tether itself.

Once the tether has identified its target, it will initially be directed towards the space junk using Global Positioning System (GPS) and as it gets closer, operators will use optical cameras to guide it.

Space junk is becoming an increasingly large problem for space agencies and private companies.

In 2013, over 500,000 pieces of space debris were being tracked by various space agencies, according to NASA.