Japanese tether experiment hits snag
An electrodynamic tether experiment being conducted by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has apparently run into some problems, according to The Japan Times.
The tether, called Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiment or KITE, was attached to the outside of the Japanese Kounotori 6 cargo spacecraft, which departed from the International Space Station on Jan. 27, 2017, after six weeks attached to the orbiting lab.
KITE is composed of a 2,300-foot (700-meter) long tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium and a 44-pound (20-kilogram) end-mass. It was supposed to be deployed soon after leaving the station, but, according to France 24, the Japanese space agency is unsure if the device actually deployed. There has been no official word as to what might have gone wrong.
The space agency said it has until Saturday, Feb. 4, to work the problem and conduct the experiment. On Feb. 5, the cargo ship is expected to perform a destructive re-entry over the south Pacific Ocean.
After leaving the outpost, Kounotori 6 was commanded to go to a safe distance of about 12 miles below and 23 miles ahead of the outpost. KITE was then supposed to deploy to its full length and spend a week extended. A current of no more than 10 milliamps was expected to run through the tether to demonstrate how it could affect the orbit of an object. The hope is this technology could be used to help remove space debris in the future.
Kounotori 6 launched on Dec. 9, 2016, and spent a week catching up to the ISS. It was berthed to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony module on Dec. 13. Over the next six weeks, cargo in the pressurized section was unloaded and replaced with trash and unneeded equipment.
The unpressurized section contained six lithium-ion batteries that were installed in early January 2017 via a combination of ground-controlled robotics activities and two spacewalks. The batteries replaced 12 nickel-hydrogen units, nine of which were placed inside the unpressurized section of Kounotori 6 for disposal upon re-entry.
Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.