Scientists say that now there are about 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball that are floating into space. However, they are estimating that up to 500,000 pieces of untrackable debris — perhaps millions of the smallest size — exist in orbit as well. If just one such piece of debris no bigger than a marble would hit a functional, orbiting spacecraft — as seen in the movie, “Gravity” — the results would be catastrophic.
To prevent that from happening, Japan has launched, in a trial run, a magnetic net last Friday. The net is planned to attract and retain the pieces of space debris hurtling around the planet. In theory, scientists say that the electrified net will slow down the debris and — when it starts to fall towards Earth — burn up in the atmosphere, according to the international press.
The 300 meters-long net was launched along with a powerful new satellite, developed jointly by the United States and Japan, to help with extreme weather predicting.
The net, which is made of very thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum, was launched this time on a trial run to see if the net can unfurl correctly and generate electricity, but no debris will be harnessed.
If all future tests are going well, scientists think that full deployment could start in 2019.