New Scientist reports:
It’s a rubbish start for the world’s first space clean-up experiment. A cable designed to drag space junk out of orbit has failed to deploy from a Japanese spacecraft… A 700-metre-long metal cable was fitted to an unmanned spacecraft called Kounotori 6, which was on its way back to Earth after delivering supplies to the International Space Station. The cable was meant to unfurl from the spacecraft, at which point an electric current would pass along its length. The idea was that the current would interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, creating a drag that pulled the spacecraft out of orbit. The spacecraft would then tumble into our atmosphere and become incinerated… However, Kounotori 6 was unable to release the cable to test its junk-removing potential, and JAXA could not fix the glitch before the spacecraft returned to Earth’s atmosphere this morning… “Releasing a cable may seem simple, but nothing in space is simple,” says Sean Tuttle at the University of New South Wales in Australia… The test’s failure should be seen as a setback rather than a nail in the coffin for junk-removing cables, Tuttle says.
Because of the simplicity of this system, it is bound to be tested again — hopefully sooner than later… This process is inherently safer than using rocket engines (to be attached to the junk), and is much less of a ‘mass-to-orbit’ cost, since it only requires a grappling system, and a spool of wire/cable. Hopefully, there will be a follow-up / re-try in the near future for this orbital debris clean-up process.
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