Creating a satellite made of wood or organic materials that can burn up once its lifespan is over is a step towards minimizing the environmental impact of space debris that also pollute our planet.
A wooden satellite, named LignoSat, is currently being developed through a collaboration between NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with a potential launch date in 2024. The spacecraft, made from magnolia wood, has undergone successful initial tests aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Three types of Japanese wood, known for their resilience to extreme conditions, were sent into orbit for the first time to be exposed to the space environment. Research conducted by Kyoto University concluded that the materials did not show any deformation or change in mass after exposure to space. Magnolia wood demonstrated stability and unique resistance. Wood, in general, seems to adapt well to the microgravity environment, temperature changes, and intense cosmic radiation. Moreover, the choice of wood was based on its natural degradability, making it an ideal material for a sustainable satellite project.
The final satellite will be no larger than a coffee cup, measuring 10 cm on each side. However, it aims to symbolize a more environmentally responsible approach to space exploration, as the environmental consequences of SpaceX rocket flights have raised concerns. Additionally, the issue of space debris has recently become a part of legislation. Debris resulting from rocket and satellite launches, whether remaining in orbit and causing congestion and interference with astronomical observation or falling back to Earth and polluting the atmosphere and oceans, poses a serious problem. Currently, over 9,300 tons of space debris orbits our planet, and 10% of stratospheric particles are contaminated with metallic debris from ground-based missiles. By using natural materials instead of aluminum for the satellite’s walls, it can burn up completely upon reentry.
Replacing metal with wood may seem far-fetched, but this satellite could soon find its place in space alongside others, launched by an American rocket. Inside, it will house conventional electronic measurement and communication instruments. Since wood does not deteriorate significantly in the absence of oxygen and living organisms, it is expected to perform comparably to traditional space materials. The creators of the wooden satellite also envision constructing wooden habitats on the Moon or Mars in the future as part of their innovative approach.