A Japanese startup called Sumitomo Forestry has teamed up with researchers from the Kyoto University to work on a wooden satellite, reported BBC. While the entire plan is in a nascent stage, the project aims at tackling the increasing threat of space debris. Sumitomo Forestry is currently working on testing the use of wood materials in space, and soon they will be experimenting with wood in extreme locations on Earth. Going ahead with their research, the two teams plan to launch the world’s first satellite made out of wood in 2023.
The report says that wooden satellites were a better alternative to the existing ones as these would burn up after entering the atmosphere without releasing any harmful substances. No waste will be created, and the risk of space junk falling back on Earth can be lessened.
Takao Doi, a professor at Kyoto University and Japanese astronaut, was quoted by BBC to state that all the satellites that re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at present “burn and create tiny alumina particles which will float in the upper atmosphere for many years.” This can prove harmful in the long run, something they aspire to prevent by using wood as their material.
Although the company has not revealed the wood’s name for R& D purposes, they are working on developing wooden materials that are “highly resistant to temperature changes and sunlight.” The report also drew attention to the threat the space junk poses. It mentions that in the coming years, more and more countries are going to send more satellites. But already, of the total number of satellites circling our planet, about 60 percent of them are defunct, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
However, a report by ARS Technica pointed out that just using wood for satellites is not really going to make a difference. The article cites figures to suggest a huge amount of space junk consists of the booster or the equipment used to propel the satellites into space. Even if the wood is incorporated, this number is not going to be affected. Although the wood will completely burn down if the satellite de-orbits will completely burn down, this will not stop some tiny bits of aluminum from getting into the mix as many of them can come from the rockets.