NASA and Japan have joined forces to launch the world’s first wooden satellite, known as LignoSat, in an effort to combat the growing problem of space debris. With an intended launch date as early as 2024, this innovative project aims to address the threat that space junk poses to the Earth’s environment and other spacecraft.
The collaboration brings together scientists from NASA, Japan’s space agency (JAXA), and Kyoto University. Led by Koji Murata, a researcher at Kyoto University, the project explores the use of wood materials in space. Various types of wood, including magnolia, cherry, and birch, have been tested to assess their durability, resistance to temperature changes, and ability to withstand sunlight in space conditions. Wood samples have even been sent to the International Space Station to evaluate their performance in orbit.
The wooden satellite, constructed entirely from magnolia wood, boasts small and uniform cellular structures, making it easy to work with and less prone to splitting or breaking. The satellite will take the form of a cubic shape, with each side measuring 10 centimeters. Weighing approximately one kilogram, it will be equipped with a camera and sensors to monitor its condition and transmit valuable data. Furthermore, a protective coating will shield the satellite from detrimental ultraviolet rays and cosmic rays.
Scheduled as a secondary payload, the wooden satellite will accompany other satellites on a rocket destined for space. While the launch site and date are yet to be finalized, the project aims to release the satellite in 2024. Initially, it will orbit the Earth at an altitude of around 500 kilometers for several months. Ultimately, it will descend and completely burn up upon re-entry into the atmosphere, leaving no harmful or polluting debris behind.
Apart from addressing space debris, the LignoSat project seeks to examine the feasibility of wood as a material for space applications. Researchers aim to understand how wood withstands the extreme conditions of space, including intense sunlight, extreme temperatures, and the vacuum. Findings from this research could open doors to the use of more sustainable materials in future space missions.
In addition to its scientific objectives, the project hopes to inspire innovative ideas and applications for wood materials in space. This could range from constructing habitats on the moon or Mars to other creative endeavors yet to be imagined.