Japan will go fishing for space junk by launching a giant net

If the space junk surrounding the Earth was a reality show, it might as well be an episode of Hoarders. After all, there's currently something like 22,000 sizable bits of space junk floating around that scientists say are big enough to pose a danger to space vehicles. This includes everything from huge discarded rocket stages, to smaller bits that broke away from space vehicles in collisions. The total weight of this stuff is over 5,500 tons, so you really don't want to collide with any of it. Just check out the movie Gravity to see an exaggerated version of what could happen.

To avoid that possibility, several space agencies constantly track the paths of every larger piece out there, and make sure that newly launched spaceships and satellites use an orbit that avoids collisions. The problem is that the situation is now reaching a critical point, and future Earth orbiting objects could be in danger unless something is done to clean the dump up.

Japan's space agency JAXA plans to start the cleanup process, by launching a sort of extraterrestrial version of a street sweeper to scoop up some of the junk. The first tests will use a 1,000 foot long net, which has a magnetic charge to attract the junk as it passes. The net was made by a Japanese fishing net manufacturer, but this time the catch will be nothing like a net full of tuna. Once the net is loaded up with space junk, the ship leading it will be instructed to re-enter the atmosphere, where it, along with all of the junk, will simply burn up.

Assuming the first test goes well, JAXA already prepared a net that's 2/3 of a mile long for the next run, and future plans include larger versions that can snag entire rocket stages and other big pieces.

Look for the initial test version to be launched in late February.

South China Morning Post, via Gizmodo

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