In a surprising development, Japanese researchers are gearing up to launch the world’s first satellite constructed primarily from wood after a successful experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS) demonstrated the material’s resilience in outer space.

In collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), a team of scientists from Kyoto University conducted an experiment outside the ISS, exposing three different types of wood to the harsh space environment. After 10 months of observation, the researchers confirmed that the wood remained unaffected by cosmic rays and solar particles, opening doors for further exploration. The experiment took place on Japan’s Kibo module aboard the ISS, marking a significant milestone.

Based on their findings, the research team, in partnership with Japanese logging company Sumitomo Forestry, now plans to launch a wooden satellite into orbit next year. The satellite, affectionately named LignoStella, will incorporate wood into specific components that would typically be made of aluminum, rather than being entirely constructed from wood.

The researchers determined that magnolia wood exhibited exceptional durability due to its inherent strength, making it the preferred choice for the experimental satellite’s construction.

While the idea of using wood for spaceflight might seem unconventional, the recent experiment showcased the wood’s remarkable resistance. It remained intact without cracking, peeling, warping, or sustaining surface damage throughout its nearly year-long stay in low Earth orbit. Additionally, wood possesses a unique advantage over traditional materials as it would burn up entirely upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. This eliminates the risk of space debris or harmful environmental consequences associated with burning aluminum.

Wood also offers an unexpected advantage in its ability to transmit electromagnetic waves. Consequently, the satellite can house its antennas within the wooden structure itself, rather than externally. Far from being a downgrade resembling Futurama’s Bender rebuilding himself with wooden components, this innovative Japanese spacecraft is set to receive an upgrade thanks to its woody composition.

Although wood may be perceived as more fragile than other materials, the successful space experiment proves its potential and should not be underestimated. The utilization of wood in satellite construction represents a fascinating and promising development in space exploration, demonstrating the versatility and resilience of natural resources.

By Impact Lab