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Japan’s sixth Kounotori (white stork), an unmanned spacecraft, arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver about 6 tons of cargo including supplies, experiments, and Christmas gifts for the crew. The Kounotori-6 cargo ship, also called HTV-6, was captured by the outpost’s robotic Canadarm2 at 5:37 a.m. EST (10:37 GMT) Dec. 13, 2016.
The cargo included 7 microsatellites which will be released from the space station, includes one designed to conduct basic research for the development of a “space elevator”.
In addition to cargo for the outposts, the spacecraft also has an experimental equipment to remove simulated space junk as part of efforts to develop a simple and inexpensive disposal system for objects that might puncture the International Space Station or destroy satellites.
In just 60 years of human space exploration since the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957, there are currently 500,000 pieces of space debris the size of a marble or larger, and 20,000 pieces bigger than a softball – easily big enough to cause serious damage to working satellites or even the ISS if a collision occurred. A number of technical solutions to clear up the trash are being examined.
After Kounotori undocks, it will be performing an experiment in Earth orbit to practice removing space debris. The electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth’s magnetic field is expected to have a slowing effect on the space junk, which should, scientists say, pull it into a lower and lower orbit. Eventually the detritus will enter the Earth’s atmosphere, burning up harmlessly long before it has a chance to crash to the planet’s surface. The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has been working on the project with a Japanese fishnet manufacturer to develop the tether in about 10 years. The tether uses the fishnet plaiting technology. (Floro Mercene)