Astronauts residing on the International Space Station require various supplies in order to continue their mission. The resupply missions are often delegated by NASA to other companies or space agencies when they need to either deliver supply or new technologies to the astronauts.
The latest resupply mission was performed by Japan’s HTV cargo spacecraft and has departed from the ISS on Friday. The astronauts filled the freighter with trash and used batteries, and will be destroyed as it will enter Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific.
However, before it meets its fiery death, the cargo spacecraft, also known as Kounotori 6, will perform a new experiment consisting in investigating a new way to remove the junk from around Earth’s orbit. The HTV has already been detached from the ISS’ Harmony module and will be started on a trajectory away from the space station through a series of thruster burns.
Besides the 4.1 metric tons of supplies, the cargo spacecraft delivered a new set of batteries meant to refresh the space lab’s electrical system. The batteries are required to hold the power generated by the solar arrays of the ISS. Thanks to the success of the mission, the astronauts were able to replace twelve of the old nickel-hydrogen batteries with lithium-ion ones. More batteries will be delivered in future missions which will take place between 2018-2020.
Before descending back to Earth, the HTV will remain in orbit until February 5. Its purpose is to perform a new experiment which could lay the foundation for the implementation of a mechanism to remove the space junk around the planet.
More specifically, the HTV cargo spacecraft will launch a half-a-mile long tether made from stainless steel and aluminum. The electrodynamic tether will act like a net which will grab onto various space junk parts and change their orbit so that they will eventually descend and burn up in the atmosphere. The controllers on the ground will sever the tether after a week of testing and will eventually be destroyed in the atmosphere together with the cargo spacecraft and the trash it’s carrying.
What do you think about this new experiment to remove space junk from Earth’s orbit?
Image credit: JAXA