A groundbreaking satellite named LignoSat, developed by a team at Kyoto University in collaboration with logging company Sumitomo Forestry, is set to revolutionize space technology with its unique construction from magnolia wood. This 10-centimeter cube aims to pave the way for environmentally friendly satellites that completely burn up upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

The LignoSat project began in April 2020, with researchers evaluating various types of wood for their durability in harsh space conditions. Magnolia emerged as the top choice due to its strength and workability. Using traditional Japanese joinery techniques, the satellite’s wooden panels are seamlessly joined without screws or glue.

Weighing just 2.2 pounds (1 kg), LignoSat is equipped with solar panels, sensors, and an aluminum frame to house its electronic components. “Satellites that are not made of metal should become mainstream,” said Takao Doi, an astronaut and professor at Kyoto University leading the project.

LignoSat is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) in September. About a month later, it will be deployed into orbit from the station’s Kibo module. Over the next six months to a year, sensors onboard will measure the wooden structure’s response to the space environment, including expansion, contraction, and degradation. The team will also monitor temperature, cosmic radiation, and the performance of onboard electronics.

A key goal of LignoSat is to test the potential of wooden satellites to reduce space debris. Conventional satellites can release harmful particles of aluminum and other metals when they re-enter the atmosphere. In contrast, LignoSat is designed to burn up entirely, leaving no debris behind. This innovation could open up new possibilities for sustainable space exploration, especially as the number of satellite launches is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

Beyond its application in satellites, the LignoSat team envisions using wood to construct habitats on the Moon and Mars. Wood’s insulating properties and ability to shield against radiation make it an intriguing material for extraterrestrial pioneers. “We aim to build human habitats using wood in space, such as on the Moon and Mars, in the future,” said Professor Doi.

As the world watches, LignoSat’s launch this fall will mark an exciting chapter in the push for greener, more sustainable space exploration. If successful, this small wooden cube could be the first step towards a future where biodegradable materials play a crucial role in humanity’s journey to the stars.

By Impact Lab