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Reeling In a Half-Million Pieces of Space Junk

How an electric fishing line could be the solution to saving satellites and spaceships from space junk collisions.

One of the attributes that has always driven inventors, innovators, pioneers and explorers is a desire to leave their mark.

Well, since man started venturing into the dark heavens of space, it’s safe to say that our astronauts, cosmonauts and taikonauts have made their presence known in many ways, including the estimated half-million pieces of space junk that is currently being tracked by space programs around the world.

Of these, about 20,000 are thought to be large enough to do significant damage as the zoom around their near-earth orbit at about 17,000 mph. While many are about he size of a softball, some are as big as a bus. We’ve talked previously about how countries handle larger space debris, but due to the their rate of speed, even smaller objects pose a very serious threat.

So while all of these objects will burn-up in our outer atmosphere if they start falling towards earth, the most significant threat they pose is to spacecraft, satellites and that little multi-billion dollar global investment called the International Space Station.

Furthermore, whenever any of this debris collides with something, hundreds of additional pieces of space junk can be created.

In response to the growing clutter, last week the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched their Kounotori (which translates to stork) space vessel to the International Space Station with a specially designed junk collector that has been dubbed the EDT, or electrodynamic tether.

The EDT is a 2,300’ line comprised of stainless steel and aluminum that will use its own electric current and Earth’s magnetic field to detect debris, slow it down, drop the junk into a lower orbit, and then redirect it towards a harmless demise via re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

JAXA worked with Japanese fishnet manufacturer Nitto Seimo to develop the cord, which has been about 10 years in the making. JAXA estimates that the cord will eventually need to be more than 10 times longer than its current size to be truly effective.

They’re targeting 2025 for expanded use of the EDT.

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