Sorry it’s a day late!
Back in December, Japan launched a cargo ship on the 9th destined for the ISS with supplies, however after supplies were delivered, the ship had another secondary mission. The ship was to use a 700 meter tether in order to try and de-orbit space junk.
The craft is called ‘Kounotori’ and blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center, with its aluminium strand and steel wire tether that was created with the help of a 100 year old fishing company.
There is estimated to be more than 100 million pieces of space junk in orbit, including discarded equipment from old satellites, tools and bits of rocket. Many of these objects are orbiting at 28,000 km/hr and could cause mission ending damage to any satellite. The Junk has accumulated over the more than 50 years of space travel, starting with the Russian Sputnik.
The mission finished on February 5th and it’s safe to say that the results are mixed. After its launch it arrived at the ISS 4 days later delivering 4 and a half tonnes of fresh food, water, and research gear, alongside a half dozen lithium ion batteries for the stations starboard solar power thruss.
The ship then departed the ISS on January 27th and moved out and ahead in order to begin tests. The test involved using electrodynamic tether technologies as a means of starting the de-orbit of large pieces of space debris. But the 700-meter conducting cable with a 22 kg end mass failed to deploy.
The failed tether did mean that no space junk could be collected, however the craft was still used to dispose of 5 tonnes of ISS waste using a destructive orbit. The spokesperson for Jaxa, the company in charge of the mission said “The experiment to verify the system for debris removal using the electrodynamic tether was not a 100% success, but we were able to obtain some important results.” This is leaps and bounds made in terms of trying to clear up a serious problem within the space exploration community.