The (outer) world’s first wooden satellite

Researchers from Kyoto University in collaboration with Sumitomo Forestry, a Japanese company, have started to develop what should be the first satellites made out of wood.

Space junk is becoming an increasing problem as more satellites are launched in the atmosphere. There are currently 6,000 satellites circling Earth, a number that will only increase, of which about 60 per cent is defunct. When this debris re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, they burn and create tiny alumina particles, which will float in the upper atmosphere for years.

While the ESA is starting up the first space junk clean-up project, with the idea behind wooden satellites is that they would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground.

Sumitomo Forestry had started research on tree growth and the use of wood materials in space. The material will be tested under harsh conditions in order to enhance the value of trees, not only in space, but on Earth as well. The aim is to develop ultra-weather resistant wooden building materials in addition to the satellite.

The next stage will be developing the engineering model of the satellite, and then the manufacture of a flight model. Since wood transmits electromagnetic waves and geomagnetism, if the satellite is made of wood, an antenna can be installed inside the satellite, and the satellite structure can be simplified.

The aim is to have developed the first satellites of wood by 2023.

Image: Sumitomo Forestry