Japan launches LignoSat: World’s first wooden satellite to combat space debris

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In a pioneering effort to address the growing concern of space debris, Japanese scientists from Kyoto University, in collaboration with Sumitomo Forestry, have developed a unique spacecraft known as the LignoSat. What sets this satellite apart is its construction material- magnolia wood.

The decision to explore wood as a viable alternative to traditional satellite metals stems from the environmental impact caused by burning satellites re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. Tiny alumina particles generated during this process linger in the upper atmosphere, posing long-term environmental threats. To counteract this, the Kyoto researchers initiated a project to evaluate the suitability of biodegradable materials like wood for satellite construction, according to The Guardian report.

Extensive tests were conducted in laboratories simulating space conditions, demonstrating wood’s surprising resilience. Wood samples, including Japanese cherry and magnolia, underwent exposure trials on the International Space Station (ISS) for nearly a year. The results revealed minimal signs of damage, credited to the absence of oxygen in space preventing combustion and the absence of living organisms causing decay.

The magnolia wood emerged as the most robust choice, leading to the construction of the LignoSat. Roughly the size of a coffee mug, the wooden satellite will embark on a mission to measure the wooden structure’s deformation in space. While wood exhibits durability in one direction, researchers aim to assess its performance concerning dimensional changes and cracking in other directions.

Launching a Sustainable Future: Final Preparations for LignoSat

The launch, scheduled for this summer, is yet to finalize the choice between an Orbital Sciences Cygnus supply ship or a SpaceX Dragon mission. If successful, LignoSat could pave the way for wood to become a sustainable construction material for future satellites. With over 2,000 spacecraft anticipated to launch annually, the environmental impact of burning aluminum from re-entering satellites could be alleviated by embracing biodegradable materials.

Research from the University of British Columbia warns of the potential depletion of the ozone layer caused by aluminum particles. However, the LignoSat, designed to burn up into biodegradable ash upon re-entry, offers a promising solution to mitigate the environmental risks associated with traditional satellites. The successful deployment and operation of LignoSat may mark a transformative shift in satellite construction methods, fostering a more sustainable approach to space exploration.

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