Wooden satellites: “Wood” they work in space?
Japanese scientist Koji Murata has a bold question for space exploration: Could we build a wooden house on the Moon or Mars? He decided to test this theory by creating a wooden satellite. In 2024, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA will launch the wooden prototype to see how it will respond to space conditions for six months or more.
It may seem impossible or silly to create space satellites out of furniture material. However, it may help reduce the space junk that continues to accumulate in our atmosphere. Unlike metal satellites, they would merely burn and disintegrate once gravity pulls them back to our planet. As a result, everyone may continue to launch space missions unhindered.
This article will discuss how scientists plan to launch a wooden satellite into space. Then, I will elaborate on the world’s growing space junk problem.
How would we send a wooden satellite to space?
Koji Murata, the head of the space-wood project at Kyoto University, told CNN wood is an obvious choice for space structures. “When you use wood on Earth, you have the problems of burning, rotting, and deformation,” he said.
“In space, you don’t have those problems. There is no oxygen in space, so it doesn’t burn. No living creatures live in them, so they don’t rot,” he added. Also, Murata stated the strength per weight of wood is the same as that of aluminum.
That means it is a viable space construction material. Moreover, he and his team tested wood at the International Space Station and found it is remarkably resilient in outer space.
He tested three wood types: Erman’s birch, Japanese cherry, and magnolia obovata. The first is common in East Asia, and the others are native to Japan.
Cypress and cedar are more common wood types for construction. However, Murata said his team “chose materials that could withstand as much detailed work as possible because of the small size of the satellites.”
Their final choice is magnolia wood because it has small and uniformly sized cells. These qualities make it easy for engineers to work with the material.
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It is also less likely to split or break. Moreover, Nikkei Asia reported electromagnetic waves pass through wood easily. As a result, a wooden satellite can house conventional orbital antennas.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA will launch the wooden prototype LingoSat next year. Despite Murata’s research, JAXA engineer Tatsuhito Fujita says we know little about sending wooden structures into space.
The LingoSat passed initial safety evaluations with no critical concerns. Fujita declared, “JAXA also hopes for lighter, stronger structural materials that are less likely to generate debris and is conducting research to achieve this goal.”
Why is space junk a growing concern?
Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon inspired many to explore outer space. However, humanity has left so much junk in Earth’s orbit that it’s becoming a major issue.
The Conversation news website said we’ve left roughly 23,000 objects larger than four inches or 10 cm and 100 million pieces of debris larger than 0.04 inches or 1 mm. Contrary to popular belief, these minuscule objects can devastate nearby satellites.
They could eventually move at roughly 15,000 mph or 24,140 kph, 10 times faster than a bullet. Believe it or not, a paint fleck moving that fast can pop spacesuits and destroy astronaut equipment.
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In 1978, NASA scientist Donald Kessler described another dangerous scenario from space trash. He said multiple pieces of space debris may aggregate, eventually making it impossible to have satellites in orbit.
Experts call this scenario the Kessler syndrome. Also, Jonathan McDowell told Space.com, “It’s going to be like an interstate highway, at rush hour in a snowstorm, with everyone driving much too fast.”
In response, Japanese startup Astroscale is developing ways to clear space junk. It will send a servicer satellite to latch onto space debris. Then, its servicer will descend to the Earth with the space debris so that they will both disintegrate in the atmosphere.
Koji Murata plans to send wooden satellites into space to determine whether we could have wooden houses on Mars. Also, the experiment will test the viability of these devices as a more sustainable alternative to conventional satellites.
Wooden satellites are likely to disintegrate harmlessly in our atmosphere once they fulfill their purpose. As a result, we could avoid accumulating more debris in near-Earth orbit.
Eventually, we could clear our atmosphere to allow everyone to launch more space exploration missions. Learn more about the latest digital tips and trends at Inquirer Tech.