NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have collaborated to create a groundbreaking solution for sustainable space exploration with the launch of the world’s first wooden satellite, known as LignoSat. Set to go into orbit next summer, this small wooden box-shaped satellite is approximately the size of a coffee mug.
The use of wood in the satellite’s construction offers several advantages. Unlike other materials, wood does not block magnetic fields or electronic waves, allowing the antenna to be placed inside the satellite. Additionally, when LignoSat reenters Earth’s atmosphere, it will burn up and disintegrate, eliminating the risk of becoming space debris or causing harm to anyone.
Another benefit of the wooden satellite is that it poses a lower collision risk for the International Space Station and other crewed spacecraft. As an eco-friendly alternative to metal satellites, LignoSat reduces the potential damage from collisions in space.
Furthermore, the non-reflective nature of wood addresses a major concern with metal satellites. The abundance of metal satellites in orbit causes light to bounce off them, affecting astronomical research. By using wood, this issue is mitigated, allowing for more accurate observations.
The joint team conducting this innovative project tested three prototypes made from different types of wood, including magnolia, cherry, and birch. These prototypes were placed in the Japanese Experimental Kibo Module of the International Space Station and exposed to space conditions for a duration of 10 months. After retrieval by a Japanese astronaut, the samples exhibited no signs of cracking, warping, peeling, or surface damage.
The strength and resilience of wood in simulated low Earth orbit conditions astonished the researchers. Wood demonstrated a comparable strength-to-weight ratio to aluminum, making it a feasible material choice for small satellites like LignoSat. The cube-shaped satellite measures just 10 sq cm and was constructed using traditional Japanese woodworking techniques. While cypress and cedar are common woodworking materials, they were unsuitable for the intricate work required on such a small scale, leading the team to select magnolia as the ideal material for LignoSat.
This pioneering initiative demonstrates NASA and JAXA’s commitment to advancing sustainable and eco-friendly solutions for space exploration. By utilizing wood in satellite construction, the risk of space debris, collision damage, and light interference can be minimized, ensuring a more sustainable and efficient future for space exploration.