TOKYO—"'Fishing net' to collect space debris," blared a headline in Wednesday's edition of London's The Telegraph newspaper. The article described how the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and a Japanese fishing net maker had teamed up to make "a giant net several kilometers in size" that would sweep up abandoned satellites and drag them into the atmosphere to burn up. The Telegraph quoted Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a space scientist, as praising the plan but soberly urging care, "because we wouldn't want a real satellite getting caught up in the net." This satellite fishing system could be completed "within 2 years," the paper claimed.
That news also came as news to JAXA. "It's a bit of a bother. We're getting a lot of inquiries from overseas asking if it's true," says JAXA spokesperson Eisuke Aizawa. It's not.
The saga started on 25 January when the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's leading nationwide dailies, ran a brief local-company-makes-good story about Nitto Seimo, which makes knotless commercial fishing nets in the small city of Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture. The article described how the 100-year-old Nitto Seimo still has a knack for innovation, working on a tether that might be used to collect space debris.
"Then the story quickly walked off on its own," says Aizawa. It appeared in the Asahi's English edition, but key details got mangled in translation. Then news blogs and media Web sites around the world picked it up and added their own embellishments.