Kyoto University's research team has been working on a satellite made entirely of wood for NASA. The team now intends to launch it into space next summer as part of a joint mission between Japan's JAXA space agency and NASA. While using wood in space technology may appear unusual initially, scientists state that wood has particular advantages in the space atmosphere.
Kyoto University researcher Koji Murata, who is involved in the project, explains, "When you use wood on Earth, you have the problems of burning, rotting, and deformation, but in space, you don't have those issues. There is no oxygen in space, so the wood doesn't burn, and no living creatures live in them, so it doesn't rot."
Wood, like aluminium, has great strength-to-weight ratios. Additionally, after the wooden satellite's operational life is up, it may safely burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, eliminating the concern of space debris.
Satellite LignoSat creation
The satellite named LignoSat, is constructed out of magnolia wood and is part of JAXA's J-Cube Programme, which aims to promote emerging space technology through microsatellite efforts. The researchers plan to observe LignoSat's behaviour for at least six months, mainly how it handles extreme temperature swings in space.
Wood panel sent to ISS' Kibo platform | Kyoto University
According to Murata, "There is certainly not much reduction in strength from minus 150 to 150 degrees Celsius (-238 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit) in our experiments. However, a satellite travels around the Earth every 90 minutes and experiences these large temperature changes. We don't know how well the satellite can handle this severe, recurrent cycle of temperature change, which has to be explored."
Besides its environmental advantages, the researchers believe that wood may have significant advantages for spacecraft interiors, including shielding astronauts from damaging radiation. Also, apart from practical issues, the idea of a space capsule with a wooden interior provides a touch of comfort and warmth to an otherwise antiseptic atmosphere, providing a unique viewpoint on the future of space flight.