Japan hopes to deploy a giant net in Earth orbit to sweep up space junk.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Nitto Seimo Co, a fishing net company, are planning to tackle the increasingly hazardous problem of debris that threatens to wreck space shuttles and satellites. Last year, a US report concluded that space was so littered with rubbish that a collision could set off an "uncontrolled chain reaction" capable of destroying the communications network on Earth.
The thin metal net, spanning several kilometres, will be deployed by satellite and sweep up waste in its path as it circles the Earth.
After a journey lasting several weeks, the net will become charged with electricity and be drawn back towards Earth, with both the net and its contents burning up on entering the atmosphere.
Nitto Seimo has spent six years developing the super-strong space nets, which consist of three layered metal threads, each measuring 1mm in diameter and intertwined with fibres as thin as human hair. The company is aiming for the system to be completed within two years.
About 10 million pieces of man-made debris, 12,000 of them large, are estimated to be circulating the Earth.
Larger objects include spent rocket stages, defunct satellites and collision fragments. Scientists said a collision between satellites or large "space junk" could send thousands of pieces of debris spinning into orbit, each capable of destroying further satellites.
Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a British space scientist, said: "I'm glad someone is doing something about it because space debris is extremely dangerous.
"However, the net will have to be used carefully because we wouldn't want a real satellite getting caught." (© Daily Telegraph, London)