Is the future... wood?
A team of researchers at Kyoto University has been hard at work on a satellite made of wood — and they say it's now scheduled to launch into space next summer in a joint mission between Japan's JAXS space agency and NASA.
While it may sound like an odd choice of materials, they say wood is a surprisingly suitable material for space.
"When you use wood on Earth, you have the problems of burning, rotting, and deformation, but in space, you don’t have those problems: there is no oxygen in space, so it doesn’t burn, and no living creatures live in them, so they don’t rot," Koji Murata, a Kyoto University researcher who's been working on the project, told CNN.
It's also roughly as strong per weight as aluminum, according to Murata, and can readily burn up in the atmosphere once decommissioned.
In short, it's an exciting vision of a sustainable future that could meaningfully address our growing space debris problem — while also potentially allowing space companies to save some cash.
Shiver Me Timbers
Murata and his team's satellite, dubbed LignoSat, is constructed out of magnolia wood and set to be launched into space as part of JAXA's J-Cube Program, a microsatellite initiative promoting up-and-coming space technologies.
The goal is to monitor the tiny satellite over at least six months to see how it responds to the extreme changes in temperatures.
"There is not much reduction in strength from minus 150 to 150 degrees Celsius (-238 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit), we confirmed that in our experiments," Murata told CNN. "But a satellite goes round the Earth and has these huge temperature differences in 90 minutes."
"We don’t know to what extent the satellite can withstand this intense, repeated cycle of temperature difference, so this has to be investigated," he added.
In addition to being more "environmentally friendly," the researchers have speculated that wood could be a compelling choice for spacecraft interiors to protect astronauts from harmful radiation.
And that's not to mention the cozy feel of having a claustrophobic space capsule clad in wood.
More on the project: Scientists Preparing to Launch Wooden Satellite
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