Japan's First Attempt To Clean Up Space Didn't Go So Well

We've left over 100 million pieces of debris up there in about 60 years.

Japan's First Attempt To Clean Up Space Didn't Go So Well
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency

Japan's experiment to try to clean up space has ended in failure

In early December, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched a craft taking supplies to the International Space Station. On board was also an experimental magnetized tether meant to gather space junk in orbit around Earth.

But the tether didn't deploy. So on Sunday, the craft made a controlled deorbit — burning up in Earth's atmosphere on its way down.

Removing orbital debris is an admirable goal. Over 100 million pieces of junk have been left in orbit since we started exploring space about 60 years ago. All that trash poses a major threat to anything else we send up there. 

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This experiment was the first in-space test for this kind of technology. But the U.K. is hoping to test other ways of removing space debris in 2017, and the European Space Agency has proposed similar tests for 2023.