Kyoto University and Japanese forestry company Sumitomo Forestry are designing a wooden satellite, hoping to meet the target by 2023.
The 10 cm cubesat, called LignoSat, will be made of wood and solar panels. Using the renewable material would make it cheaper than standard aluminum and more environmentally friendly when it burns on re-entry into the atmosphere.
Another added advantage is that electromagnetic waves can pass through wood, unlike aluminum, thus opening up the possibility for satellites to store antennas. However, the initial cubesat proof of concept will contain an electronic substrate, which will also burn and add pollution to the upper atmosphere in a less environmentally friendly way.
One argument is that wooden satellites may be smaller than aluminum ones due to the lack of electromagnetic shielding, and therefore not only more environmentally friendly for re-entry, but also less likely to contribute to the very real debris problem. space.
The US Department of Defense is already tracking over 27,000 pieces of orbital debris moving at extremely high speeds, think 15,700 mph in low earth orbit.
If the project is successful, it could open up opportunities for the wood to be used in other structures in the space, an outcome that should surely appeal to investors in the logging company.
“Through the operation, we will verify the use of wood in space,” Sumitomo Forestry’s canned statement said translated from Japanese. [PDF].
But before operating the satellite, the team must develop and test an engineering design, and even before that, the collaborative research partners will test the durability of wood as a space material. They plan to test various hardnesses and wood species in harnesses placed outside the International Space Station (ISS) for nine months.
For the ISS part of the mission, it helps if the team is led by someone who has been there and has done it before – professor at Kyoto University, Japanese Agency astronaut Aerospace Explorer (JAXA) and staunch supporter of extraterrestrial life, Takao Doi.
Doi is a veteran of two NASA shuttle missions and visited the ISS in March 2008, during which time he discovered the exterior of the ISS through a robotic arm session.
LignoSat could be the first wooden satellite to go into space, but it must act quickly. A Scandinavian plywood cubesat called WISA Woodsat is expected to go up in the first half of 2022. The satellite’s launch was originally slated for late 2021, but a requirement to change radio equipment has created delays. ®