Japan’s Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University are working together to identify woods that will be fit for the construction of satellites. The team announced that it plans to have wooden parts for satellites before 2023 so that the wooden satellites can be launched into space. The officials stated that the production process will begin with tests to ascertain the types of wood that would be able to survive in extreme conditions.
Takao Doi, an astronaut, and professor at Kyoto University explained the reason for the decision to switch to wooden satellites. The professor stated that the team is working with wood types as a result of its many advantages over aluminum, Kevlar, and other metals that are currently used in the production of satellite parts. According to Doi, a wooden satellite will burn up if it falls out of orbit, without the release of as many harmful substances as other materials.
“Currently when satellites re-enter our atmosphere, they burn and release tiny metallic particles that stay in the upper atmosphere for decades,” Doi said to reporters. “These particles will later become harmful to the environment if nothing is done.”
Materials used for satellites are chosen for their ability to withstand the extreme conditions of space. Aluminum, Kevlar, and aluminum alloys meet up with the requirements. They can survive the high temperatures and frequent showers of radiation. The characteristics that make the metal suitable for the space job, also make them unsuitable, according to experts. This is because the metals continue to survive in space decades after they are no longer needed.
As a result, the debris in space keeps increasing with every satellite that continues to survive the extreme conditions, well after it is no longer needed. The World Economic Forum estimates that there are about 6,000 satellites currently orbiting the Earth, but about 40% are only contributing to the debris since they stopped functioning years ago. More satellites will be launched to space in coming years, and subsequently, more dead satellites will add to the junk in space, according to experts.
According to members of the space community, space debris is a threat to manned space missions and other satellites as well as Earth’s upper atmosphere. Experts say that if a solution is not found soon, things will become even worse. The Japanese pair told reporters that they are hopeful that their research with wood will be a turning point in redeeming the situation.
The scientists explained that not only would wood burn upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, electromagnetic waves can also penetrate wooden satellites, making the design and deployment of antennas easier for scientists. If they are successful, they plan to put antennas into wooden satellites. The group said it has commenced testing of wood types that would be suitable for the job.