First wooden satellite to reach space on SpaceX

Japan is set to launch the world’s first wooden satellite into orbit, addressing the issue of space junk.

Kyoto University has announced that the first four-inch wooden satellite is set to travel to space on a SpaceX rocket in September.

After reaching the International Space Station (ISS), the satellite named LignoSat will be released into orbit for an up to six-month-long test run. The scientists will monitor how the wooden surface endures extreme temperatures and intense solar radiation.

The research team worked extensively to identify the most suitable wood for the job. Erman’s birch, Japanese cherry, and magnolia bovate were among the short-listed candidates. After being brought to the ISS in 2020, the magnolia demonstrated the most strength and was picked by scientists to build LignoSat.

The creators expect that the wooden material will burn up completely upon re-entering the atmosphere, potentially offering a solution to the creation of metal particles when a retired satellite reaches Earth. The burning wooden satellite will only produce biodegradable ash.

The satellite will be transferred to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) next week.

Raising issues with space garbage

The problem of space junk is increasing as more objects populate Earth's orbit. A study indicates that the accumulation of satellite debris could eventually create Saturn-like rings around Earth, composed entirely of space junk.

This debris poses a risk to Earth's population, potentially causing injuries and destruction. In November 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned that falling debris from SpaceX's Starlink satellites could injure or kill a person every two years and might even down an aircraft.

In March 2024, a part of a space cargo pallet hit Florida. NASA had expected the Earth’s atmosphere to burn the garbage, but it survived and hit a residential area, causing damage.

Apart from the danger of falling pieces of metal, there is also an invisible danger – burning satellites leave behind small metal particles that accumulate in the upper atmosphere.

Research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that 10% of atmospheric aerosols in the stratosphere contain metallic particles from spacecraft, including satellites.

Although the long-term effects of these metal fragments are unknown, scientists worry that they could damage Earth's ozone layer.

Calls for regulation are growing, with NASA and other regulatory bodies advocating for an international treaty. This treaty, currently under debate at the UN, would hold both satellite manufacturers and operators accountable for their satellites and debris from launch to the end of their lifecycle.