Agencies aren't just worried about space debris colliding with working satellites - collisions among large pieces of debris can create showers of smaller pieces, which are more difficult to track.
The EDT spacecraft will target large pieces of space junk, ranging in size from a few hundred kilograms to a few tons (roughly 400 lbs. to about 4,000 lbs.), a JAXA representative told Space.com in an email.
The trick with this type of system will be figuring out how to attach the tether to an uncontrolled, orbiting piece of debris. There are various systems on the proposed spacecraft that would allow operators to control and monitor the position of the tether relative to the piece of space junk, including a current running through the tether itself. Once the tether has identified its target, it will initially be directed toward the space junk using GPS, and, as it gets closer, operators will use optical cameras to guide it, the representative said.
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Application of the technology to a real mission could take place as early as the mid-2020s, a JAXA representative told Space.com.
This isn't the first time a tether has been proposed as a method of cleaning up space junk, according to the website for NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office. Nets are also a popular choice.
"Many different methods for remediation of the orbital debris environment have been proposed over the years," according to the website. "These include the use of lasers, electro-dynamic or momentum exchange tethers, tugs, drag enhancement devices, and other, more exotic methods."
Original article on Space.com.