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The first wooden satellite to combat space pollution will be launched by Japan.
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The first wooden satellite to combat space pollution will be launched by Japan.

Japanese researchers have successfully developed a highly unique spacecraft, which is constructed entirely out of wood.

The LignoSat device is constructed from magnolia wood, which has proven to be highly durable and crack-resistant in experiments conducted on the International Space Station (ISS). Preparations are currently underway for its launch on a US rocket in the upcoming summer season.

Researchers at Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry have constructed the timber satellite to investigate the potential of using biodegradable materials, like wood, as a sustainable and eco-friendly option for satellite construction, instead of the metals currently being used.

“A Japanese astronaut and aerospace engineer from Kyoto University, Takao Doi, recently warned that when satellites re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, they will burn up and produce small alumina particles that can remain in the upper atmosphere for an extended period of time. This will eventually have an impact on the Earth’s environment.”

In order to address the issue, scientists in Kyoto initiated a study to assess different types of wood and their ability to withstand the demands of space launch and prolonged flights in orbit. Initial experiments were conducted in simulated space environments, and it was discovered that the wood samples did not experience any noticeable changes in weight or show any signs of decay or harm.

Koji Murata, the leader of the project, was amazed by wood’s resilience in such harsh conditions.

Following the experiments, the samples were transported to the International Space Station (ISS) and underwent exposure tests for nearly a year before being returned to Earth. Once again, they exhibited minimal signs of damage, which Murata attributed to the absence of oxygen in space that could result in wood combustion, as well as the lack of living organisms that could contribute to its decay.

Space junk in low earth orbit

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Different kinds of wood were examined, such as Japanese cherry. However, it was found that wood from magnolia trees was the strongest. This wood was chosen to construct Kyoto’s wooden satellite, which will hold various experiments to assess the spacecraft’s performance in orbit, according to Murata.

The satellite’s goal is to track the changes in the wooden structure as it moves through space. While wood is strong and steady in one direction, it may experience shifts and cracks when facing a different direction,” he explained to the Observer.

Murata stated that a final determination has yet to be reached regarding the launch vehicle. The options have been narrowed down to launching this summer on an Orbital Sciences Cygnus supply ship to the ISS or a similar SpaceX Dragon mission later in the year. The probe, which is about the size of a coffee mug, is anticipated to remain in space for at least six months before being permitted to enter the upper atmosphere.

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If the LignoSat functions successfully in orbit, it could pave the way for wood to be utilized as a building material for additional satellites. It is predicted that over 2,000 spacecraft will be launched each year in the future, and the aluminum they release into the upper atmosphere during re-entry could potentially lead to significant environmental issues.

Newly published findings from a study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada indicate that the presence of aluminum in satellites re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere may lead to significant damage to the ozone layer, which shields the planet from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. Additionally, this could potentially impact the amount of sunlight that is able to penetrate the atmosphere and reach the Earth’s surface.

Fortunately, this will not be an issue for satellites constructed from wood, such as LignoSat. When it re-enters the atmosphere after completing its task, it will only leave behind a fine mist of environmentally-friendly ash.

Source: theguardian.com