Japan to launch satellite made of wood in 2024

‘Wood’s ability to withstand simulated low earth orbit conditions astounded us’

Vishwam Sankaran
Thursday 01 June 2023 11:38 BST

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A satellite made of wood could be launched into space in 2024.

The high durability of wood in space was recently tested and confirmed at the International Space Station (ISS) by an international group of scientists led by those from Kyoto University.

Their experiments showed wood samples tested at the ISS for durability underwent minimal deterioration and maintained good stability.

Preliminary inspection, including strength tests and crystal structural analyses, of the wood samples was also done once they were brought back to Earth from the ISS by Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.

Despite extreme conditions in space, including temperature changes and exposure to intense cosmic rays and dangerous solar particles for 10 months, tests found no changes in the samples, such as cracking, warping, peeling or surface damage, according to a recent Kyoto University statement.

The retrieved wood specimens were tested and showed no deformation after space exposure and also did not undergo any mass change before and after space exposure, scientists said.

The international research group has determined that the satellite LignoSat, slated to be jointly launched in 2024 by Nasa and Japan’s space agency Jaxa, will likely use Magnolia wood – “Hoonoki” in Japanese.

Magnolia, researchers said, has relatively high workability, dimensional stability and overall strength, making its properties ideal for the mission.

“Wood’s ability to withstand simulated low earth orbit – or LEO – conditions astounded us,” Koji Murata, head of the research effort, said in 2021.

“We... want to see if we can accurately estimate the effects of the harsh LEO environment on organic materials,” Dr Murata said.

Wood also has some benefits compared to complex alloys used in space vehicles, as it is environmentally friendly, easier to produce and can be disposed off better at the end of a satellite’s life.

Such wooden satellites may also be designed to completely burn up on re-entry into the atmosphere and even if small fragments did survive, they may decompose easily.

Ahead of the planned 2024 satellite launch, scientists are also reportedly investigating the fundamental mechanisms behind nano-level material degradation.

They said these findings may lead to high-functioning and robust wood materials to suit new applications.

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