Japan aerospace agency to test “space nets” to clean up around orbit


Japan’s space agency will give the heavens a scrubbing with a new technology similar to fishing nets that would “catch” millions of pieces of man-made debris orbiting the Earth.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, in cooperation with fishing net manufacturer Nitto Seimo Co, will test the “space net” designed to reel in detritus floating in space.

The space net will be launched into space aboard a satellite by late February. Once in orbit, the satellite will unfurl 300 meters of long wire net made of metal fiber that will use a specially generated magnetic field to entrap debris circulating just beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

An estimated 100 million bits of man-made junk are orbiting the Earth. Some 22,000 believed to measure 10 cm or larger and are considered hazardous with the risk of disrupting communications networks on Earth if it collides with a functioning satellite or the International Space Station.

“We started work on this project about five years ago and we are all excited to see the outcome of this first test,” Koji Ozaki, the engineer who heads the development team at Hiroshima-based Nitto Seimo, told the South China Morning Post.

The test is planned to last for about a year after which the net will be pulled down by Earth’s gravity, incinerating the junk once the net enters the atmosphere, JAXA officials said.

“Fishing nets need to be extremely strong because they need to be able to hold a large number of fish, but our tether does not have to be that strong,” Ozaki said. “It is more important that it is flexible.”

The company hopes to be a forerunner of space clean-up missions.

Jaxa plans to attach nets to larger pieces of space junk—rocket engines or satellites that are no longer operational – and let gravity and the atmosphere do the work of eradicating the debris.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: Paul Vallejo/Flickr