08 February, 2017
Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had been trying to test an experimental system in which a long cable would be deployed from the Kounotori 6 satellite and directed towards a piece of space debris.
The cargo spacecraft named Kounotori Kounotori 6 or HTV-6 was loaded with more than 4.5 tons of supplies, water, spare parts and experiment hardware for the astronauts aboard ISS and arrived at the space station on nearly a week later.
Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of known pieces of space junk, which pose an ever-rising threat to satellites as well as manned spacecraft.
Measuring in at 700 meters long, the conductive tether would interact with the Earth's magnetic field, building up a charge which could slow the orbital speed of the space junk.
There are still more than 100 million pieces of waste revolving around the planet.
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According to the Guardian, more than 100 million pieces waste of various sizes, including cast-off equipment from old satellites and bits of rockets, are now floating around the Earth. The general idea is that the electrodynamic tether would attract electrons from the ambient plasma in the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere and that these electrons could power a "current drive".
For example, in 2009, a dead Russian satellite collided with an operational US satellite, producing about 700 pieces of space junk in the process.
An experimental effort to remove five decades worth of space junk orbiting Earth has met with failure due to technical problems. "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".
After a week of attempts to get the experiment to work, JAXA was forced to give up and abandon the test.
"It is certainly disappointing that we ended the mission without completing one of the main objectives", Inoue added.