Japanese Space Debris Removal Experiment Hits Snag

Electrodynamic tether deployed from cargo ship. (Credit: JAXA)

JAXA’s effort to test an electrodynamic tether (EDT) that could help clean up orbital space debris has hit a snag, Japanese media report.

The 700 meter (2,297 ft) long tether was to have deployed from the Kounotori resupply ship after it separated from the International Space Station on Jan. 27. However, JAXA says the tether, which had a mass on the end that weights about 20 kg (44 lb.), did not deploy as planned.

The agency planned to continue trying to try to deploy the tether through Saturday (today). The supply ship is scheduled to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere on Monday.

The tether is designed to slow down a piece of debris by running an electrical current through it. The current will hasten the entry of the debris into the Earth’s atmosphere.

“JAXA plans to perform Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiments (KITE) in order to establish and demonstrate EDT technology and to obtain some EDT characteristics, such as tether deployment dynamics, and electron emission and collection in space plasma,” the space agency says on its website.

“KITE will help us identify the features and key technologies necessary to design and develop an EDT system as a method for improving space safety by removing large debris,” the website states.