Blasting off towards the world's first wooden satellite

·1-min read
Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University are working to develop wooden structures that can be launched into space.

The first ever wooden satellite could be launched from Japan in 2023. The Japanese firm Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University have joined forces in the aim of developing a wooden satellite that would burn up more readily as its lifespan ends, without leaving debris or waste behind.

For the moment, the project involves researching wood-based materials and coatings capable of withstanding the extreme conditions of space. The partners are studying the construction of specific wooden structures, notably using cedar and birch. The project evidently presents considerable technological challenges, starting with ensuring wood's resistance to the extreme temperatures of space and intense exposure to sunlight.

On paper, wood offers several advantages. For starters, it doesn't block electromagnetic waves. Wooden structures could therefore house antennae and other control mechanisms. These structures would also be simpler to design and lighter than those required by current satellites. Moreover, when a wooden satellite finishes its mission, de-orbits and plunges back to Earth, it would burn up completely, without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or showering the ground or the sea with debris.

Using wooden satellites could also help reduce space junk, as many of the thousands of satellites currently orbiting the Earth are now obsolete. In 2020 alone, more than 1,200 satellites were launched into space -- a record!

Note that this isn't Sumitomo Forestry's only venture, as the firm is also working on a project to create a 350-meter wooden skyscraper in Tokyo.