An experimental Japanese mission to clear space debris from orbit has failed, officials said Monday in an embarrassment for Tokyo.
More than 100 meters of debris is believed to whiz around the planet, including discarded equipment from old satellites and rocket parts that experts say could pose risks to future space exploration.
Scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) tried to test an electrodynamic “line” created with the help of a fishing net company to slow the circulating garbage and bring it into lower orbit.
The hope was that the disorder created after more than five decades of human space exploration would eventually invade Earth’s atmosphere and burn harmlessly before it could crash onto the planet.
The 700-meter line made of thin wires made of stainless steel and aluminum was to be extended from a cargo ship launched in December that supplies astronauts on the International Space Station.
The problems emerged quickly, however, and the technicians spent days trying to fix the problem but only had a week to complete the mission before the ship reentered Earth’s atmosphere on the Monday before dawn.
“We believe the leash has not been released,” said lead researcher Koichi Inoue. “It is certainly disappointing that we completed the mission without achieving any of the main objectives.”
The disappointment is the most recent failure to meet Jaxa and comes just weeks after the agency was forced to abandon a mission that attempted to launch a satellite into orbit using a mini-missile.
The agency also abandoned a satellite launched last February to check for X-rays emanating from black holes and galaxy clusters after they lost contact with the spacecraft.