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Are wooden satellites the answer to our space junk problem? Japan wants to find out

Published Jun 3rd, 2023 9:20PM EDT
satellite in space, wooden satellites could replace metal satellites in the future
Image: Jose Luis Stephens / Adobe

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Sending a wooden satellite into space might not sound like a great idea. After all, there’s no way that wood is as durable as metal, is there? Well, according to an experiment led by researchers aboard the International Space Station, wood is surprisingly sturdy in outer space.

Japan first announced plans to make a satellite made of wood back in 2020. The reasoning behind the move comes down to the current space junk problem and the ongoing mass of satellites launching into space. What goes up must come down, and unfortunately, many agencies just aren’t correctly setting their satellites up for a return to Earth’s atmosphere, leading to dangerous metal bits spewing through the sky.

A wooden satellite could be the answer here, as wood would burn up in the atmosphere upon reentry. This means less junk reentering the atmosphere, lowering the risk of injuries to animals and human life when they inevitably fall back to the planet. While the chances of running out of room in orbit aren’t high, experts have warned about the ongoing space junk problem.

space junk around Earth, wooden satellite could help cut down on space junk
Satellites made of wood could help cut down on the space junk problem. Image source: JPL

The ISS has had to veer to avoid space debris several times in recent years. This feat will only get more dangerous as others start putting space stations into orbit and more satellites inevitably join the fray.

The new wooden satellite is being built as part of a partnership between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and a group of researchers at Kyoto University. The team already tested three different types of wood by exposing them to the harsh environment of space outside of the ISS. They found that the material wasn’t affected by the cosmic rays around it or any of the incoming solar particles.

After 10 months in space, the wood was just fine, the researchers explained. This experiment has paved the way for the building of a satellite made of wood, which Gizmodo reports is nearly ready to launch. Seeing just how well the satellite does will help prove or disprove the effectiveness of wood as a satellite material. If successful, though, we could see more wooden satellites lifting off in the future.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.