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Space Hardware

JAXA To Use Fishing Nets To Scoop Up Space Junk 210

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the sounds-like-a-super-hero dept.
An anonymous reader writes "We've seen high-fallutin proposals to tackling the space junk problem before — and now the Japanese space agency JAXA has teamed up with Japanese fishing net maker Nitto Seimo to haul in some of the 100,000-plus objects of space junk orbiting the planet. AJAXA satellite will deploy and release a kilometers-wide net made by Nitto Seimo of ultra-thin triple layered metal threads. The net will gradually be drawn into Earth's magnetic field and burned up along with the abandoned satellites, engine parts and other litter it's collected."
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JAXA To Use Fishing Nets To Scoop Up Space Junk

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  • But, but... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @01:40PM (#35152318)
    What are they doing to make sure the net doesn't also entrap space dolphins?
    • by alta (1263)

      More importantly, space turtles!

      • Don' t worry, there's enough to go around. It's turtles all the way down, after all!
        • by Nadaka (224565)

          It may be turtles all the way down, but space is up. It surely isn't turtles all the way up as well.

      • by ISoldat53 (977164)
        Will they have glass balls?
    • by red_dragon (1761)

      But think of the tasty space maguro sashimi!

    • You just reminded me of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (aka Save the Space Whales)
      Bastard.

  • Theoretical Problem. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Onuma (947856) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @01:42PM (#35152350)
    One potential snag in their line (see what I did there?) could be the fact that some of these objects are moving in different or opposing directions. A single BB at 20000 km/h can burn through a solar panel array, what's to stop it from passing through a fine net? It'll still clean up lots of junk even with a greater-than-anticipated amount of holes, but there will certainly be discrepancies between projected results and actual.
    • Theoretical Solution: Electro-magnetize the net when possible (not when near functioning equipment and their signal paths). Attract to gather slow-moving particles, repel to [hopefully] slow down oncoming bullets on successive passes.
      • by Onuma (947856)
        You'd have to be a rocket scientist to design that...
      • If only electro-magnets could be set to "attract" and "repel" ferrous metals. If we could do that, I bet we could harness the tech for cheap as hell space launches.
      • I'm sure you understand that this will have no effect on the aluminum, stainless steel and titanium components used in most satellites.
        • by aXis100 (690904)

          Not quite.

          They may not be attracted/repelled, but any conductive metal will be decellerated in a magnetic feild though induction and the resulting eddy currents. They might even be vaporised by the heat!

    • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @02:29PM (#35152970)

      A single BB at 20000 km/h can burn through a solar panel array, what's to stop it from passing through a fine net?

      The end problem is as you've stated, these micro-particles travelling at ridiculous velocities. However these particles are created by the breakup of much larger pieces of debris. There are ~100k+ pieces of large debris (out of which 22,000+ NASA monitors), and it's the collision/disintegration of these larger pieces that result in all the tiny deathballs. By playing Katamari Damacy, the space debris is formed into a giant blob that slowly loses energy via drag. Eventually the orbit decays and the space manatees burn up in the atmosphere (where all that energy is turned into thermal kinetic energy rather than deadly linear kinetic energy).

      Metaphorically, it's not exactly saving fish from the microscopic plastic in the sea, but it's at least taking care of the floating plastic island.

      • By playing Katamari Damacy, the space debris is formed into a giant blob that slowly loses energy via drag.

        Which is true, but utterly irrelevant to the OP's point - which is the extreme difficulty of doing so.

        • by XiaoMing (1574363)

          Actually, I didn't take OP's comment to emphasize the "extreme difficulty" of implementation, as the diameter and volume density of the particles in question combined with the actual surface area of the netting gives a negligible cross-section for collision (in other words, I'm pretty sure you'd effectively be winning the space lottery to have a net be rendered noticeably ineffective from microscopic particles). It seemed more logical to read the post as trying to point out that this method would do littl

    • Who'd want to launch a BlackBerry at 20km/h?

      Erm, wait. Don't answer that.

    • by Timmmm (636430)

      Yes, I'm sure they haven't thought of this basic fact that anyone who was trying to design this would think of...

      Why does everyone on slashdot try to hard to pick holes in everything?

      • by Locke2005 (849178)

        Yes, I'm sure they haven't thought of this basic fact that anyone who was trying to design this would think of...

        Why does everyone on slashdot try to hard to pick holes in everything?

        We're engineers. It's our nature.

  • The satellite with the net must spend a lot of time and fuel maneuvering to match velocities with the junk. At typical orbital collision speeds the net would have little chance of catching anything.
    • by icebike (68054)

      The satellite with the net must spend a lot of time and fuel maneuvering to match velocities with the junk. At typical orbital collision speeds the net would have little chance of catching anything.

      I think it will catch something. Probably just ONE thing.
      Then, with any difference in speed at all, the net will wrap itself around that one thing as the inertia of the object and the net deforms the net into a badminton bird shape.

      It would need some way to make the net slowly overcome the deformation (spring poles perhaps). But a kilometer wide spring pole would weigh quite a bit.

      • Of course! Why didn't all the engineers working on the project think of that? They should have asked /. first!

        • by icebike (68054)

          What makes you think fish net manufacturers have engineers?

          • by Cwix (1671282)

            What makes you think the Japanese space agency doesn't?

          • by Americano (920576)

            What makes you think that fish net manufacturers haven't considered the fact that a fishing net needs to catch more than ONE FISH before collapsing in on itself and becoming useless? Or did you really think that commercial fishing vessels went out and netted those piles of fish, one at a time?

            • by icebike (68054)

              Clearly you know nothing about commercial fishing.

              • by Americano (920576)

                Really, so they do collect the fish one at a time?

                • by Qubit (100461)

                  Really, so they do collect the fish one at a time?

                  Yes, but only if they're using one of the bespoke fishing nets. They're totally exclusive and only available to high-rolling fish hunters (we don't call them fishermen anymore). They can even match the color of the fishing net to the color of your car or your tie. I should know -- I have two of them, myself.

                  It's the hot new sport of the rich for 2011. 'Bespoke Fishing: When you have nothing better to do with your money."

                  • by Americano (920576)

                    I heard they're starting to prefer the term "Artisanal Ichthyology", and that every bespoke net comes with your choice of ironic t-shirt, ironic trucker hat, or black-framed glasses.

      • Possible solution A) Rotate the net and let centrifugal force do the work of your spring pole
        Possible solution B) Apply a charge to the net so that it's self repelling, which they're doing anyway to control it's orbit.

        Now, I imagine there are a good half dozen other possible solutions, and I'm not at all sure either of mine are feasible, but I am pretty sure that the engineers involved understand the basic physics of the situation and have probably thought of your concerns.

  • by Stenchwarrior (1335051) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @01:43PM (#35152362)
    "ABC News reports that since JAXA launched it's 'Space Net', mysteriously all communication and research satellites have been taken offline, except the ones belonging to Japan. As a result, stock prices for communications companies world-wide have plummeted except, of course, in Japan and have created panic and chaos on a global scale. Companies are now struggling to build and deploy hundreds of new satellites, but in the meantime are forced to piggy-pack services across Japan-based companies. For now, ABC news must be referred to as JBC. Back to you, Chou Youn..."
    • In related news, dozens of multi-billion dollar lawsuits have been filed in Japan, the USA, and Europe against the makers of the JAXA satellites various co-conspirators. Once soaring stock prices of Japanese communications companies have plummeted at the allegations and freezes of assets of the corporations, their directors, and their largest stakeholders have occurred....
    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @01:58PM (#35152562) Homepage Journal

      That would have been a lot funnier if you'd used a Japanese name instead of a Chinese one in the punchline. But hey, Chinese, Japanese, what's the difference? "Arr rook arike" to you, I suppose.

    • Hilarious racist humor. I like how the American host of ABC has a non-anglicized Chinese name.
      • by Talderas (1212466)

        Asian reporter Trisha Takinawa?

      • by sjames (1099)

        So he goofed up on a foreign (to him) name he picked out of the air and that makes him racist? Other than the (poorly) chosen name, do you suppose his story would have significantly changed if this was a Russian project?

        • Only racists do the "Chinese is the same as Japanese" thing. To anyone who spends 30 seconds educating themselves, China and Japan are as different as salt and sugar. It's only the ignorant who make that giveaway mistake, and ignorance and bigotry are always found together - indeed, bigots are the most ignorant people of all in life. Educated people aren't racist.
    • A JAXA satellite was struck with orbital debris and now we have a bunch of very large fish net type objects in orbit.

      When reached for comment JAXA said this in an official release: "@$#^&!"

  • This might work for the bigger pieces that are easier to dodge, but what about all those smaller pieces that are much harder to track and evade? Is it possible to build a huge array of the gel that they used to collect fragments and dust from comets and use that to collect a lot of the much smaller pieces? Or are there some technical limitations to this, such as the debris having such a high velocity that they'd just punch right through the gel?
    • This might work for the bigger pieces that are easier to dodge, but what about all those smaller pieces that are much harder to track and evade? Is it possible to build a huge array of the gel that they used to collect fragments and dust from comets and use that to collect a lot of the much smaller pieces? Or are there some technical limitations to this, such as the debris having such a high velocity that they'd just punch right through the gel?

      Given the velocities a small object may be more likely to vaporize. I think the problem would be with the gel or foam losing material during impacts. Are we replacing one bit of debris with multiple bits? At orbital velocities a piece of gel or foam, or a blob of water, is quite dangerous.

      The probes that collect fragments and dust maneuver to and match velocities with the target to a degree that the material can withstand the impact and be captured. They are not just put in a collision path and take a fu

    • by TWX (665546)

      Areogel is what you're talking about, and it's not a gel at all in its final state, it's a solid. I think the name comes from the gel state it is in while being manufactured, before they dry it out.

      I was actually thinking much the same thing though. Since areogel is incredibly light weight, and since there are already materials scientists working on ways of mitigating the deleterious effects of small objects striking satellites and space stations, it might be somewhat more practical to design a structure

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        Yeah, I was wondering why they didn't use aerogel. Either Nova or Nova ScienceNow (I think it was one of Nova's "Making Stuff " series) recently talked about aerogel, and how it was very strong comparatively and would be good to collect stuff like this. I don't remember for sure if they mentioned space debris, but I think they did.

  • by blair1q (305137)

    1. This thing is just going to be the biggest piece of space junk until it burns up.

    2. Unless it's got propulsion units, it's not going to sweep anything up, because it's just going to move at the same speed they are in that orbit.

    3. If it's going to cross orbits, it's going to run into the problem of large objects hitting it at high velocities.

    4. The first thing of any size that hits it at a low speed is going to ball it up, unless, again, it's got some sort of propulsion units to unfold it again, but

    • Re:Wha? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by gnieboer (1272482) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @02:15PM (#35152770)

      Yep, especially #2. Orbital dynamics means your not going just sweep stuff up in the same orbit you are in.

      A fun way to see this all demonstrated is a little iPhone game called "Osmos", you're a mote have to go along and try to absorb smaller motes. Many of the scenarios involve a "sun" that everything is orbiting around. It quickly forced me to remember my school day courses on orbital dynamics and how to do a Hohmann transfer, etc. It's decent entertainment (and no I'm not the developer)

      But as you'd see in the game, you need to be in a more eccentric orbit and sweep through other orbits if you want to pick other stuff up. And the delta V's involve lead direct to the parent's points #3 and #5... they will go right through the net.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        There's also the fact that nets don't work on a velocity basis. They work by acceleration. That is, the net moves at one velocity, the water moves at another, and the fish, when it contacts the net, is now stuck between two forces acting on it in opposite directions. It's being accelerated by water drag, and held in place by the net.

        This space-net would have to be "sticky" in order to keep anything it captures in contact with it. So either it folds up around it, which means game-over for catching anythi

        • Yes, well, Im sure a Japanese net manufacturer knows nothing about nets, and the Japanese space agency knows nothing about space, and this entire thing will fail.

    • by Americano (920576)

      It's amusing how something that doesn't sound "sci fi" enough is poo-poo'ed by people whose sole exposure to anything resembling a space program consists of having seen the movie "Space Camp" as a kid, and having watched Firefly a few years ago.

      I'm sure the physicists, mathematicians, and engineers at the Japanese space agency slept through all of their math and physics classes that would have allowed them to predict the numerous failure modes you've identified for them from your armchair. It's a good thin

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Um...stay amused. Your characterization of me couldn't be more wrong (hint: my work is on-orbit right now). It's got nothing to do with sci-fi, and everything to do with sci-ence.

        JAXA's solar-sail thing [jspec.jaxa.jp] was spectacular. This, spectacular #fail.

        The other ideas in TFA (attaching a drag balloon to a satellite to increase the rate at which its orbit decays, and using a self-propelled satellite with detachable butterfly nets to snag individual objects and deorbit them) actually make more physical sense, but s

  • Maybe they should use harpoons instead of nets.

    We're whalers on the moon,
    We carry a harpoon.
    But there ain't no whales
    So we tell tall tales
    And sing our whaling tune.

  • ...with an aquarium net. Good luck with that.
  • I read the headline too quickly.

    At first I thought it was going to be an article about some new garbage collector for Java.

  • Somebody should tell Jaxa it was only an anime , not a documentation :).... Planet es [anidb.net]
    • by initdeep (1073290)

      actually it was a manga first, but i came here wondering if i would be the only one to point out the obvious similarities.

      Now if only they get the all important headband right......

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @01:58PM (#35152560) Journal
    No space net involved.

    If you look at the details, there is no net involved. A company which makes nets is also able to make webbed rope-like material, and this is being considered for installation on a satellite before launch. When the satellite is no longer useful, the electrically-conductive tether would be extended, and induced electromagnetic forces would drag the satellite out of orbit.

    • What the heck are you reading? From TFA (and TFS accurately):

                A JAXA satellite will deploy and release a kilometers-wide net made by Nitto Seimo of ultra-thin triple layered metal threads.

          And that's about as far as it goes. TFA says nothing about tethers.

  • This Stretch of Space Cleared by JAXA, keeping the space lanes beautiful.

  • by Verdatum (1257828) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @02:22PM (#35152860)
    Of course Japan would be the ones to bother with this. Thank you, Planetes [wikipedia.org]
    • by vadim_t (324782)

      I see a mention of the anime on every story of the sort, so finally I bought the first two DVDs.

      Unfortunately, somewhat of a disappointment. The garbage collection and space stuff is amazingly well done, but what spoils it is the characters.

      Space garbage collection doesn't provide for that much plot material, so the show is about the interactions between characters. And in this team, there are two bosses with a room temperature IQ, and an incredibly preachy main character. Some episodes manage to be incredi

      • by Verdatum (1257828)
        The negative issues with the characters are greatly amplified in the English dub; I was sad to see such a poor dub for such a good show. The main character is intentionally preachy, since she is idealistic and lacks real-world (space?) experience; she develops through the series. Otherwise, your perceptions are pretty accurate. I love the show largely because, in terms of physics and engineering, it is the best depiction of space in fiction I've seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey.
        • by lennier1 (264730)

          Only watched the subbed version, but I still prefer the alternate story told by the manga version.

  • If you were driving around looking for a house to rob, would you stop at a house with broken toys, an old Chevy up on cinder-blocks and assorted other junk on the front lawn? No, you would just keep on driving, looking for a clean, well-kept lawn: "Hey, this house must have something inside worth stealing!"

    The same effect would work on evil aliens, cruising around space, look for a planet to maraud on. When they see all the space junk, they will just keep flying by: "What a bunch of crap that is orbiting

  • Why not recycle it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Plazmid (1132467) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @02:31PM (#35152986)

    Instead of throwing all that potentially valuable material into the pacific ocean, why not coral it all into one big "trash heap" and recycle it? After, it takes a lot more energy to put something into orbit than it does to move something to another orbit. At the very least, the trash heap could serve as a testing ground for space manufacturing processes.

    • Yes, collecting all the debris in orbit into a single giant ball, then let it drift in orbit, uncontrolled, without thrusters, is a brilliant idea.
  • This doesn't sound like it would work! It's not as easy as netting fish in an ocean. We are talking about very high velocities here. If the orbital velocity of a piece of space junk doesn't closely match the orbital velocity of the net, it probably will blast right through the net. There are stories about a paint chip putting a crater in the space shuttles windshield. There is just that amount of energy involved. A possible scenario.... You are going after a piece of space debris and another piece of

    • This doesn't sound like it would work! It's not as easy as netting fish in an ocean. We are talking about very high velocities here. If the orbital velocity of a piece of space junk doesn't closely match the orbital velocity of the net, it probably will blast right through the net ... You are going after a piece of space debris and another piece of space debris collides with the net. The second piece, which you were not going after, is going to damage the net. Remember, they are talking about very large nets, the probability of this happening is not small.

      I'd like to see an analysis of this capture system (with data on, for example, the strength of the net and resistance to penetration), but at an (educated) guess I'd say that it only captures a small fraction of the material it encounters, but that small fraction is much larger than the present rate of removal from orbit (which, above a certain altitude, is essentially zero). If the net works, I would expect a large number of them would be orbited over time.

      Maybe we would eventually have an international la

  • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @02:35PM (#35153056)
    I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Not some LEO screw or spaceman's glove. Bad sat, 1960s. Three tons of 'im. Geosynchronous 'fore it went driftin'. RTG battery backup. This sat, swallow you whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', an' down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that'll bring back your uplinks, put all your businesses on a payin' basis. But it's not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than $300 million, chief. I'll find him for three, but I'll catch him, and graveyard him, for ten. But you've gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, rely on fiber-op. I don't want no salarymen, I don't want no mission specialists, there's just too many captains on this island. One billion dollars for me by myself. For that you get the bus, the payload, the solar panels, the whole damn thing.

    .
  • Quark! A series from 1978 predicted all of this:

    The show was set on the United Galaxies Sanitation Patrol Cruiser, an interstellar garbage scow operating out of United Galaxies Space Station Perma One in the year 2222. Adam Quark, the main character, works to clean up trash in space by collecting "space baggies" - unfortunately for Quark, while circumstances frequently dropped adventure into his lap, he was always ordered back to collecting garbage when the action was over.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_(TV_series) [wikipedia.org]

  • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday February 09, 2011 @02:58PM (#35153344)
    Kinda like the gelatinous cubes in AD&D would clean up the dungeons. Figure out a way to manufacture aerogel cubes in space. NASA used aerogels to capture cometary particles because the high impact velocity with a solid would obliterate or vaporize the particles. It could turn a small piece of debris into a thousand smaller pieces of debris. An aerogel would decelerate the particle slowly enough that it could be captured intact. You want something like a cube because you want a big cross-sectional area to increase the chance of a collision - a sphere is the least effective design. Just put a bunch of them in known orbits. The smaller debris like paint chips which hits them will be captured within the gel. The bigger debris we already track and can be avoided. After a few decades, either de-orbit them, or just leave them up there since each should be big enough for us to track.
  • It's not old rockets up on blocks and dead satellites that are the problem. IT's the paint chips, bolts, wrenches, the tiny junk that causes issues. they need a electristatic space duster to sweep up the tiny crap that is the main concern. a second stage of a rocket that can be tracked is not that big of a deal.

  • It's sad really. We spend tens of thousands of dollars to get every bit of this "junk" onto orbit, and the best thing we can come up to do with it is rope it in and burn it up in the atmosphere. If we could undertake a major push into developing infrastructure on orbit, all of this space debris would be a potential gold mine of recyclable materials. We could capture spent Centaur and other upper vehicle stages, refuel them, and use them for one off moon shots. We could capture the free-floating thermal blan
    • by Mr Z (6791)

      We don't go after this for the same reason we didn't productize tar sands in Alberta until recently, and for the same reason we haven't produced commercial quantities of oil from oil shale: If it costs too much to do, it's not worth doing. It becomes worth doing when the cost is less than the selling price.

      Sure, some of the precious metals, etc. in these spacecraft are valuable. The cost of collecting it from space far, far outweighs the cost of just mining more here on earth. It simply isn't commerciall

  • Why would you let all that stuff burn up in the atmosphere when you could sell it on eBay?

    For Sale: SPACE SHIT, NO RESERVE.

  • I note exactly one comment out of more than a hundred that not only appears to question the "butterfly net in space" meme, but bothered to track down the likely project: http://www.timog.com/brb/jaxa-plans-to-clean-up-space-debris-with-hi-tech-net [timog.com] As the picture shows (perhaps there are Japanese sources with real details), the idea is to send a tether to dock with a specific satellite at its end-of-life. Both tether and satellite would then de-orbit. This is really a substitute for building end-of-life
  • I guess I should give up on my giant space broom project now.

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