The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a spacecraft from the Tanegashima Space Center on Friday, Dec. 9 that carried a magnetic tether designed to move vast amounts of space junk from the Earth's orbit.

Help From 106-Year-Old Fishing Net Maker

The magnetic tether made of steel wire and aluminum strands was made with the help of a fishing net company based in Japan, the 106-year-old Nitto Seimo Co., which started to make minnow nets in 1910 and invented the knotless net machine 15 years later.

"The tether uses our fishnet plaiting technology, but it was really tough to intertwine the very thin materials," said company engineer Katsuya Suzuki."The length of the tether this time is 700 meters (2,300 feet), but eventually it's going to need to be 5,000 to 10,000 meters (16,400 to 32,800 feet) long to slow down the targeted space junk."

Magnetic Tether To Help Weed Out Clutter In Space

The innovative device is designed to slow down space debris, including cast-off equipment from old satellites and rocket pieces, and pull them out of orbit to clear up massive amounts of clutter in space.

The net-like tether will be extended from the International Space Station using a robotic arm. Researchers said that the tether will produce enough energy to alter an object's orbit and push it toward the atmosphere, where it it will burn up before it gets the chance to crash into the Earth's surface.

100 Million Pieces Of Orbiting Space Junk

About 100 million pieces of space junk are believed to be in orbit. Many of these objects, which include tools, discarded equipment from old satellites, and pieces of rockets, move at high velocity speeds reaching up to 12,500 miles per hour.

Although many of these pieces are small, a tool as small as a screw whizzing through space at high speed can cause considerable damage to the space station or to a satellite.

These space debris can possibly cause catastrophic accidents and pose threats to the world's orbital telecommunications network. JAXA'S tether technology attempts to address the dangers posed by this mess of space debris.

"We need to take action on this massive amount of debris," project chief Koichi Inoue, from JAXA, said prior to the launch of the "space garbage truck." "People haven't been injured by the debris yet, but satellites have. We have to act."

Junk has accumulated in space over the years since the advent of space exploration when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957.

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