Japan’s Wooden Satellite Is Nearly Ready for Space


Apparently, space wood is a thing. Japanese researchers are preparing to launch the world’s first satellite made from wood following a successful experiment on board the International Space Station (ISS), which suggests lumber can be quite sturdy in outer space.

In partnership with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), a team of researchers from Kyoto University exposed three types of wood to the harsh environment outside the ISS, and found that the material was not affected by the surrounding cosmic rays or incoming solar particles after a period of 10 months, according to the researchers behind the experiment. The experiment kicked off in March 2022 on board Japan’s Kibo module on board the ISS.

The orbital experiment paves the way for the research team, along with Japanese logging company Sumitomo Forestry, to send a wooden satellite to orbit next year. The satellite, nicknamed LignoStella, won’t be entirely made out of wood, of course, only the parts that would usually be constructed from aluminum.

After examining three different types of wood on board the ISS, the team concluded that magnolia wood is the most durable kind due to its overall strength and will therefore be used to build the experimental satellite.

When you think of constructing orbiting spacecraft, hauling lumber to outer space may be the last thing that comes to mind. As the recent experiment shows, however, the wood did not crack, peel, warp or suffer any surface damage after hanging out in low Earth orbit for nearly a year.

Wood even has a few advantages as it would burn up entirely when reentering Earth’s atmosphere, unlike metal satellites that could break up into pieces of space junk or results in burning aluminum that would have a negative environmental impact on the atmosphere.

Another advantage is that wood doesn’t block electromagnetic waves, so the satellite could house its antennas inside its wooden body rather than on the outside. So, rather than thinking of it as Futurama’s Bender trying to downgrade by rebuilding himself from wooden components, the sassy Japanese spacecraft will actually get an upgrade on account of its woody body.

Yes, nature’s lumber is perceived as more fragile than other types of material, but I wouldn’t count it out just yet.

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