Spaceflight Insider

Japanese tether experiment hits snag

Kounotori 6 release

Kounotori 6 just before being released by the robotic Canadarm2 on Jan. 27, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA

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.

An artist's rendering of the KITE electrodynamic tether experiment. The Japanese space agency has until Saturday to deploy the experiment. Image Credit: JAXA

An artist’s rendering of the KITE electrodynamic tether experiment. The Japanese space agency has until Saturday to deploy the experiment. Image Credit: JAXA



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. 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 his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter

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