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Japan unveils world's first wooden satellite! Here’s all you need to know about ‘LignoSat’

Japan unveils world's first wooden satellite! Here’s all you need to know about ‘LignoSat’
Human ingenuity knows no limits. From launching rovers to explore distant planets and their uncharted landscapes, to capturing black holes images and peeling back the curtain on one of the cosmos' most profound mysteries, our relentless pursuit of knowledge has led to remarkable achievements that defy the boundaries of possibility.

Now, we’re set to take on another extraordinary endeavour: sending a wooden satellite into space!

On Tuesday, Japanese scientists announced that they have successfully created the world's first wooden satellite. This small cube-shaped spacecraft is poised to make history as it journeys into space aboard a SpaceX rocket later this year.

Below, we delve into the details of this remarkable wooden satellite, known as LignoSat, addressing some frequently asked questions about this pioneering project.
What is LignoSat?
“LignoSat”, a fusion of “ligno” (the Latin word for wood) and “satellite”, is the result of approximately four years of collaborative research and development by a team comprising members from Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry Co. Their objective is to leverage the eco-friendliness and cost-effectiveness of wood in space exploration.

LignoSat is constructed from magnolia wood, chosen for its durability and adaptability following rigorous space exposure assessments conducted on samples of cherry, birch and magnolia wood chips. The raw material originates from Sumitomo Forestry’s company-owned forest.
Why wood?
In contrast to traditional satellites constructed from metals, wooden satellites are viewed as more environmentally friendly upon reentering the Earth's atmosphere at the conclusion of their mission. Unlike metal satellites, which pose air pollution risks due to the generation of metal particles during reentry, wooden satellites mitigate these concerns. Moreover, alumina particles from conventional satellites can have adverse effects on weather patterns and communication systems.

Wooden satellites also offer a solution to the issue of space debris. Orbiting Now, a website that tracks satellites, recorded over 10,049 satellites in orbit as of May 30, including 8,135 in Low-Earth Orbit destined for reentry. By utilising wooden satellites, the risk of space clutter and associated hazards can be reduced.

The development of wooden satellites also marks a significant advancement for both the aerospace and timber industries. In a joint press release, Kyoto University and the Tokyo-based wood products company emphasised the significance of this achievement in expanding the utilisation of wood, a sustainable resource, in space exploration.

The research team has validated the durability of wooden materials in the demanding conditions of outer space, further affirming the viability of wooden satellites for future space missions.
Is it all wood?
Not quite.

LignoSat, a 10-centimetre cube, comprises 4 to 5.5 millimetre-thick magnolia wood panels, complemented by a frame partially crafted from aluminium. Equipped with solar panels attached to select sides, the satellite weighs approximately 1 kilogram.

Constructed using a traditional Japanese technique devoid of screws or adhesive materials, LignoSat reflects a blend of innovative engineering and time-honoured craftsmanship.

Takao Doi, a seasoned astronaut and program-specific professor at Kyoto University, expressed aspirations for future satellite iterations to feature an entirely wooden construction, including the electronic substrate component housed within.
What next?
The satellite will be handed over to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on June 4. It is then scheduled for a September launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US, destined for the International Space Station. Following its arrival at the orbiting laboratory, approximately one month later, it will be deployed into space.

Over the subsequent six months post-launch, a plethora of data will be gathered on various aspects including wood expansion and contraction, internal temperature, geomagnetism and electronic equipment performance. This invaluable data, transmitted to Kyoto University's communications station, will play a pivotal role in shaping the development of a second satellite, LignoSat-2.

However, the vision extends beyond this groundbreaking achievement. Takao Doi envisions an ambitious future where wood serves as a cornerstone for sustainable space exploration. “Expanding the potential of wood as a sustainable resource is significant. We aim to build human habitats using wood in space, such as on the moon and Mars, in the future,” he was quoted as saying by The Japan Times.


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