After that routine delivery, the craft was then directed to launch a new experiment to clean up pieces of old spacecraft still orbiting the Earth. Once attached, the tether would slow down the object, forcing it to re-enter into Earth's atmosphere where it would burn up. "It is, of course, disappointing that we have completed the mission without achieving one of its main objectives", he said.
Scientists have considered other techniques to trap and destroy space junk, including using lasers to vaporize the debris or sending small satellites into space that would trap particles and combust along with them. Whipping around the planet at high speeds, tiny bits of space junk pose a hazard to equipment and human life. Scientists estimate that there are now more than 100 million pieces of debris in orbit and that they pose a growing threat to future space exploration. It's a frustrating setback given the mounting risks posed by the almost two million bits of junk now swirling around our planet.
The Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment (KITE) flunked its first orbital test when a glitch prevented it from properly deploying a 2,300 foot-long electrodynamic tether made to grab pieces of space junk, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported January 31.
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Richard Brown said, "This is truly a very sad case in which a lovely and talented young woman senselessly lost her life". The method can disproportionately impact communities of color and disrupt family relationships, the ACLU has said.
At the moment, there are millions of bits of debris speeding around Earth.
A 2,300-foot tether, made of thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum, was supposed to extend out from a cargo ship launched in December to carry supplies to the International Space Station, Agence France-Presse noted. In 2009, American and Russian satellites collided and created thousands of large pieces of rubble. "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".
"We believe the tether did not get released", KITE researcher Koichi Inoue said, according to AFP.