An experimental effort to remove five decades worth of space junk orbiting Earth has met with failure due to technical problems. A Japanese team planned to use a 700-meter-long tether to coax floating debris to a lower orbit, where it would burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. But something went amiss and the tether couldn’t be extended – despite the best efforts of technicians who tried to fix it.

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According to the Guardian, more than 100 million pieces waste of various sizes, including cast-off equipment from old satellites and bits of rockets, are currently floating around the Earth. Experts say this garbage could pose risks for future space exploration, or even provoke armed conflict one day.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) developed a giant electrodynamic “tether” which they hoped could slow space refuse and bring it into a lower orbit – where they hoped it could later enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up. The plan was to extend the 700-meter-long tether, made from steel and aluminum wires, from a cargo ship launched in December to bring astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station.

However all did not go according to plan – “We believe the tether did not get released,” leading researcher Koichi Inoue told The Guardian. “It is certainly disappointing that we ended the mission without completing one of the main objectives.”

Related: Japan successfully orbits giant space junk collector

The Guardian notes that JAXA has had some other disappointing results lately, including aborting a mission to use a mini-rocket to send a satellite into orbit a few weeks ago, and last year’s abandoned launch of a satellite designed to search for X-rays emanating from black holes and galaxy clusters.

Via The Guardian

Images via Jaxa and Wikimedia Commons