Japan's Launching a Giant Net Into Orbit to Scoop Up Space Junk

Something must be done to deal with the estimated 100 million bits of man-made space junk circling the planet, and Japan is taking the lead. But can we do? Shoot it with a laser? Invent Wall-E-like robots to collect it? Nah… let's just blast a big net into space.

Next month, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) will do just that. Having teamed up with a company that manufactures fishing equipment, Jaxa developed a wire net nearly 1,000 feet long but just a foot wide that will be launched into orbit. Once it's unraveled, the net will generate a magnetic field that will theoretically attract nearby space debris.

The mission isn't as whimsical as it sounds. The growing cloud of space junk circling the planet poses a real threat to the hundreds of satellites in orbit, not to mention the International Space Station. It's not just nuts and bolts, either. Experts believe there are some 22,000 pieces of space debris over 4-inches in size. Any one of those chunks could start a chain reaction that could take out Earth's entire communications system.

Jaxa's net test next month is just the first of many. By 2019, the agency hopes to send a net nearly half a mile long into space to scoop up all that random debris. It's unclear what they're going to do with the junk after they've captured it, although hopefully there's enough scrap metal to finally get that Voltron project going. [SCMP]

Image via AP