NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have collaborated to launch the world’s first wooden satellite, known as LignoSat, in an effort to make space exploration more sustainable. With a size comparable to a coffee mug, this satellite is made of magnolia wood and aims to address several challenges posed by traditional metal satellites.
One significant advantage of the wooden satellite is that it will not contribute to the growing problem of space debris. At the end of its useful life, LignoSat will reenter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, thus eliminating the risk of it becoming space junk or endangering anyone on the ground.
Another benefit is that the wooden structure of the satellite poses a reduced collision risk for the International Space Station and other crewed spacecraft. Unlike metal satellites, wood does not reflect light, which can interfere with astronomy-based research.
To test the durability of different wood types in space conditions, a joint team of researchers conducted experiments on the International Space Station. Three prototypes made of magnolia, cherry, and birch were exposed to intense cosmic rays, solar particles, and extreme temperature changes for 10 months. The wood remained intact throughout the trials, showing no signs of decay or damage.
The strength-to-weight ratio of wood, comparable to aluminum, impressed the researchers. The cube-shaped LignoSat, measuring 10 square centimeters, was constructed using traditional Japanese woodworking techniques. While cypress and cedar are more commonly used materials, magnolia was chosen for its suitability for detailed work on such a small satellite.
By exploring the use of wood in satellite construction, NASA and JAXA are pioneering sustainable solutions for space exploration. The launch of LignoSat next summer marks a significant milestone in enhancing the viability and environmental impact of satellites in orbit.