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The Big Story

Japan's war on space junk

Record numbers of satellite launches by China, Russia and U.S. are crowding Earth's orbit

  © Getty Images

AIOI, Japan -- On a quiet day at work around ten years ago, Tadanori Fukushima started receiving alarming email messages from a sender he did not recognize. The emails warned that his company's broadcasting satellite -- worth roughly $150 million -- was on a collision course with an unidentified object. The sender turned out to be the U.S. Air Force.

It was the first but not the last brush Fukushima and his employer, Sky Perfect JSAT, Asia's largest satellite operator, has had with space junk. Unsure of what to do, he contacted a private observatory, which confirmed that an object was indeed approaching the satellite. There was little anyone could do. In the end, the object passed by harmlessly.

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