Wooden satellite: The best material for space

A team of scientists from Kyoto University and the Japanese logging startup Sumitomo Forestry claim that wood can be a durable material in space and the best substitute for metal. In the future, wood can become a breakthrough in the field of sustainable development of the space economy. It sounds strange, because we are used to metals being more adapted to the harsh conditions of space. But the results of the research of organic materials in space exceeded all the expectations of scientists.

Wood can be the best durable material for the space industry. Photo: Unsplash

First wooden satellite is already in 2024

The partnership was first announced back in 2020. And in March 2022, the team joined forces with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to send three types of wood to the International Space Station (ISS) to test the stability of each of them beyond Earth. Upon arrival at the ISS, the samples were placed in the Kibo module, where they stayed for about ten months. And last week, the results finally appeared. Apparently, it is a great success – scientists are already hoping to launch their first full-fledged wooden satellite into orbit next year.

“Wood’s ability to withstand simulated low earth orbit — or LEO — conditions astounded us. We now want to see if we can accurately estimate the effects of the harsh LEO environment on organic materials,” said Koji Murata, project leader and researcher at Kyoto University.

As for the wood species, the Japanese magnolia turned out to be the most stable. Moreover, the scientists confirmed that the returned sample did not have any decomposition or deformations, such as cracking, curvature, peeling or damage on the surface, and the weight almost did not change, according to a press release. This is quite an outstanding breakthrough, given the harsh temperatures and high radiation levels characteristic of space.

Environmentally friendly product

The future of wood can reach space. Photo: KyotoU Global Comms/Jake Tobiyama

From military uses to high-speed internet, society relies heavily on satellites. But despite how much we rely on them, satellites pose many real problems, both for the internal and external environment of the Earth. 

Like most other spacecraft, when satellites die, they often turn into very expensive garbage. And when dying satellites return back to the Earth’s atmosphere, they create another serious problem – the combustion of aluminum. As a result of the thermal reaction, the by-product of the combustion of this metal can form a new hole in the ozone layer of our atmosphere.

Thus, the transition to wooden satellites may be the best possible solution to the growing satellite problem. Who knows, perhaps the successor of the ISS can be made of wood.

Earlier we talked about bacteria that could produce rocket fuel.

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