Japan to Launch World’s First Wooden Satellite to Reduce Space Debris

Japan is planning to launch the world’s first wooden satellite in 2023, as part of its efforts to combat the problem of space debris. The satellite, named LignoSat, is a joint project between Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry, a leading wood products company. The satellite will be made of specially treated wood that can withstand the harsh conditions of space, and will burn up completely when it re-enters the atmosphere, leaving no trace of harmful materials.

Space Debris: A Growing Threat to Space Activities

Space debris, also known as space junk, is the term used to describe the artificial objects that orbit the Earth, such as defunct satellites, rocket stages, and fragments from collisions and explosions. According to the European Space Agency (ESA), there are more than 34,000 objects larger than 10 cm, and millions of smaller ones, in orbit. These objects pose a serious risk of collision with operational satellites and spacecraft, which could damage or destroy them, and create more debris.

Wooden Satellite
Wooden Satellite

Space debris also poses a threat to the environment and human safety, as some of the objects eventually fall back to Earth. Most of them burn up in the atmosphere, but some of them survive and reach the ground, potentially causing harm to people and property. Moreover, some of the objects contain toxic or radioactive substances, such as aluminium, which can pollute the atmosphere and the soil.

The problem of space debris is expected to worsen in the coming years, as more satellites are launched for various purposes, such as communication, navigation, observation, and exploration. Some of the new projects, such as SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper, aim to deploy thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit, creating a dense network of objects that could increase the chances of collision and congestion.

LignoSat: A Novel Solution to Space Debris

LignoSat is a novel solution to the problem of space debris, as it aims to use wood as the main material for building satellites. Wood is a renewable, biodegradable, and carbon-neutral resource, that has many advantages over metals and plastics. Wood does not emit harmful substances when it burns, and it does not produce sharp fragments when it breaks. Wood also has a low thermal expansion coefficient, which means it does not change its shape or size significantly when exposed to temperature changes.

LignoSat is the result of a collaboration between Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry, which started in 2019. The project is led by Takao Doi, a professor at Kyoto University and a former astronaut, who flew to the International Space Station in 2008. The project team has conducted various experiments to test the feasibility and durability of wood in space, using different types of wood and treatments. The team has also sent wood samples to the International Space Station, where they were exposed to the space environment for about a year.

The team has selected magnolia wood as the best candidate for LignoSat, as it has shown high resistance to cracking and deformation. The wood will be processed and coated with a special resin to make it more resilient and fireproof. The satellite will have a cubic shape, with a side length of about 10 cm, and will weigh about 1 kg. The satellite will carry several sensors and cameras, to monitor its condition and performance in orbit.

LignoSat: A Vision for the Future of Space

LignoSat is scheduled to be launched in 2023, on board a US rocket, along with other small satellites. The satellite will orbit the Earth at an altitude of about 400 km, for several months, before gradually descending and burning up in the atmosphere. The satellite will transmit data and images to the ground station, to evaluate its behavior and impact.

LignoSat is not only a scientific experiment, but also a vision for the future of space. The project team hopes that LignoSat will demonstrate the potential and benefits of using wood as a material for space applications, and inspire other researchers and companies to follow suit. The team also hopes that LignoSat will raise awareness and interest in the issue of space debris, and encourage more efforts to find sustainable and innovative solutions.

LignoSat is a small step towards a cleaner and safer space, and a greener and healthier Earth.

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