Japan Space Agency to Clean Up Earth

Space is an inhospitable, hostile environment, and human activity makes the circum-terrestrial surroundings an even more perilous region. Debris of human origin swarms around the blue planet, endangering satellites or human space flights. Cleanliness model, Japan has decided to sweep through space.

LThe Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) sent into space, Friday, December 9, the Kounotori 6 ″ (Stork) spacecraft, launched by an H-IIB rocket. The Japanese organization had fixed on the vessel, intended to supply the International Space Station (ISS), a machine whose mission is to gather space debris to ... make space. Released a few hours after take-off, the cleaner satellite has placed itself in orbit, and it will push the small and large pieces of spacecraft that are spinning above our heads.

The device comprises an electrodynamic lanyard made of steel and aluminum filaments which, when deployed, must deliver electricity by spinning in contact with the Earth's magnetic field. This electrical energy thus created should slow down the debris by attracting it, before sweeping it towards the Earth's atmosphere so that it disintegrates.

An increasingly crowded space, more and more dangerous for missions

Since 1957, and the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, the number of shipments into space has grown exponentially, with more and more states engaging - not to mention private companies for which the States to which they are subject are responsible, according to space law. If there were 1 operational satellites, as of mid-May of this year (including 419 Americans, 576 Chinese and 181 Russians), which can burst into debris if struck, there would be at least 29 objects larger than 000 cm according to estimates from the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2013, and more than 300 pieces ranging in size from 000 to 1 cm according to its figures given four years earlier. In September 10, NASA gave the figure of 500. All those beyond 10 cm in low Earth orbit (up to 2 km altitude) and exceeding one meter in geostationary orbit (approximately 000 km) are tracked from Earth by theUS Surveillance Network.

Detection on the ground makes it possible in particular to warn the occupants of the ISS so that they can avoid debris. It has also happened to them on a few occasions to have take refuge in the Soyuz capsules to be ready to return to Earth when there was not enough time to raise the orbit of the station to avoid a possible impact. Debris of ten cm hitting the station, as large as a football field, could cause depressurization. ESA has put online the image of a small impact on a window of the ISS, following a collision last April. But if the capsules were to be hit by debris, the occupants would not have a better chance of survival. Tens of thousands of debris traveling at more than 28 km / h are a considerable danger, especially in this environment where rescue from the outside is impossible. Hence the urgency to clean up and the importance of the Japanese agency's work with the electrodynamic rope, especially as space tourism projects have left the boxes.

Ironically, JAXA lost its Hitomi satellite in March this year, a month after its launch, while for years the agency has been preparing to clean up space. At the end of February 2014, Japan had placed a magnetic net in orbit to test the possibility of cleaning up, planning, if all went well, to launch in 2019 a mission no longer experimental, but real cleaning. A project on which other agencies are working, including ESA, which should launch its mission in 2021.

Hans-Søren Dag

Image and video credit: NASA

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