This 2013 graphic shows the cloud of space junk surrounding Earth.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/JSC
Japan is gearing up to track dangerous space junk orbiting Earth, according to press reports. The nation plans to create a military space force that would be used to track dangerous objects that could do harm to functional satellites and other assets in space.
Japanese officials plan on launching the system, which includes radar and telescope operations, by 2019. The mission will also provide data for the United States military, according to AFP. An unnamed source told the Tokyo-based Kyodo news agency that the new space force will be used to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Japan in space, the "fourth battlefield."
Space junk is a serious problem for any nation sending objects into space. Spent parts of rockets, debris from launches, dead satellites and other items float through space at thousands of miles an hour. Some scientists think that there are about 500,000 pieces of dangerous space debris floating in orbit. The new system will be used to monitor the potentially harmful bits of junk. [Space Junk Clean Up: 7 Wild Ways to Destroy Orbital Debris]
Some countries and companies have developed new ideas for getting rid of space junk in orbit. A Swiss spaceflight company, for example, is developing a craft called CleanSpace One. The spacecraft would be a "catcher's mitt" that could launch to a specific place in space and nab a potentially harmful piece of orbital debris. The craft would then fling itself and the dangerous junk into Earth's atmosphere, destroying both of them in the process.