space debris
Artist impression of space debris circling EarthWiki Commons

Japan is getting ready to test out a magnetic fishing net that will clean up the space debris currently circling Earth.

Tokyo's Aerospace Exploration Agency has subcontracted a fishing net company to develop a magnetic net to collect the debris, which poses a direct threat to Earth's communication networks, including satellites and spacecrafts.

The space net mission is currently planned for 2019, with initial tests set to take place next month. It has been commissioned by the company Nitto Seimo.

The net will be made of three strong and flexible lengths of metal fibre. A satellite will cast the net out into space where it will use a specially generated magnetic field to collect the space junk floating around in the cosmos.

Koji Ozaki, the engineer who heads the development team at Hiroshima-based Nitto Seimo, told the South China Morning Post: "We started work on this project about five years ago and we are all excited to see the outcome of this first test."

Nitto Seimo
Japanese fishing net company Nitto Seimo has been subcontracted to make the space net.Nitto Seimo

The net is 300 metres long and will be collecting some of the 100 million bits of man-made junk currently floating around the atmosphere. It is thought that around 22,000 pieces of space debris measure over 10cm, therefore are considered dangerous.

Speaking about the properties of the fishing net, the company owner said: "Fishing nets need to be extremely strong because they need to be able to hold a large number of fish, but our tether does not have to be that strong. It is more important that it is flexible."

If the tests are successful, the net will be cast into space for about a year, after which the net and the junk it has collected will be brought down towards Earth, where it will burn up on re-entry.

In 2011, a report by the National Research Council said the amount of space debris was at "tipping point". The tipping point, known as the Kessler effect, points to a time when the density of the objects is high enough to cause collisions that will go on to make more space debris.

Eventually it will be almost impossible to have satellites in space because they will be destroyed by debris as soon as they are sent into space.