Ever since man first sent objects to space, the amount of space debris orbiting around the Earth has been steadily growing. In an effort to reduce debris littering the space around the Earth, Japanese scientists are exploring the possibility of using a magnetic "net" to gather and dispose of these potentially dangerous objects.
These orbiting pieces of space junk pose a very real threat to spacecraft and if the amount of debris continues to grow, scientists fear the occurrence of what is known as the Kessler syndrome or the Kessler effect. The Kessler effect deals with a theoretical incident that could happen if the density of space debris reaches a certain point. Once this point is reached, these objects can collide and set in motion a chain of events that could lead to more collisions. This type of scenario was shown in the hit movie Gravity.
The project is being conducted by JAXA, the space agency of Japan, and it involves the use of an "electrodynamic tether." The agency will also start testing the equipment next month. The magnetic net will be built in cooperation with the company Nitto Seimo, which specializes in designing and manufacturing fishing equipment. While it might seem rather odd to bring in a fishing manufacturer for a project to be used in space, the decision actually makes a lot of sense since the design of the magnetic net is very similar to a fishing net, albeit at a much larger scale.
The Japanese net is estimated to be around 700 meters long and was made using steel and aluminum wires. The net will be installed underneath an unmanned craft due to the disposable nature of the system. The net also contained numerous sensors that can detect light reflected off the surfaces of space debris. Once the array detects debris, the net will align itself relative to the object to attract and trap it.
The entire array uses an electromagnetic field in a number of ways. First, it can be used to attract metallic objects into the net. Secondly, the field can also be used to maneuver the net relative to the Earth's own magnetic field. After the net has gathered enough debris, it can then slowly descend. Once the entire system starts to experience drag in the upper atmosphere, it can then de-orbit burning up everything in its wake, debris, net and spacecraft included.