Japan pioneers debris-killing kamikaze satellites

According to a post on Russia Today, the Japanese are looking for a way to clean up the never increasing problem of space junk when even a small piece can knock out a multi-million dollar satellite or endanger the ISS which happened earlier this month when it was evacuated for a short period.I’m not sure why we ended up with this mess, I suppose in the beginning of space flight they didn’t think it was important.

space junk

Discovery nears space station as debris nears, too

Seven astronauts raced to the international space station aboard space shuttle Discovery on Monday, while NASA debated whether the orbiting outpost will need to move aside to dodge part of an old Soviet satellite.
Space station astronauts had a close call last week with a small piece of orbiting junk, and NASA said Monday that debris from a satellite that broke apart in 1981 could come within about half a mile of the station early Tuesday.
NASA will decide later Monday whether to fire the space station’s engines to nudge the complex out of the path of the debris. 



Japan’s space agency (JAXA) is planning to use microsatellites to clear orbits from space junk. The robotic cleaner grabs debris with a robotic arm and then lunges down to force the dangerous pieces back into atmosphere. 

The 140-kilogram device uses electrodynamics tethers to drag down the debris. The tethers are conductive wires with lengths of up to several kilometres, which can be used to generate propulsion.

The Japanese cleaner approaches debris, attaches itself to it with a robotic arm, and then moves to a lower orbit, unwinding the tether from a reel. An electric current is generated in the tether, which interacts with Earth’s magnetic field to create drag, which slows down the debris making it re-enter the atmosphere and subsequently burn up. The satellite, of course, is destroyed in the process as well.

space junk cleaning satellites

JAXA estimates the cost of a single kamikaze cleaner at $US 4 million. They believe the demand for them will increase, as national space agencies start to take more effort do deal with the problem of space junk. On March 12 the crew of the International Space Station had to evacuate to the docked Soyuz spacecraft when a small piece of trash threatened to collide with the station.

Earth orbits are already heavily packed with pieces of spacecraft, outdated satellites and even tools lost by the ISS crews. NASA estimates that 13,000 large space objects more than 10cm long are circling the Earth, and less then a thousand of these are functioning. Dozens of millions of smaller fragments are free floating in space.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: