Satellites made of wood planned to cut down space debris

Pablo Tucker
December 31, 2020

Sumitomo Forestry told BBC that it had begun research on the growth of trees, and understanding how to use wood materials in space. When compared to metal satellites, they do not release as many harmful particles when it falls out of orbit or during re-entry.

"We are very concerned with the fact that all the satellites which re-enter the Earth's atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles which will float in the upper atmosphere for many years", he said, also adding that "eventually, it will affect the environment of the Earth". The next stage of the project will include developing the engineering model of the wooden satellite. After that, the team will manufacture the flight model of the satellite.

As an astronaut, Doi visited the International Space Station back in March 2008.

However, there is another major bonus of using wood to create the outer shell of a satellite.

Sumitomo Forestry is part of the Sumitomo Group.

Although the company has not revealed the name of the wood for R& D purposes, they are working on developing wooden materials that are "highly resistant to temperature changes and sunlight".

The wood it is using is an "R&D secret" a spokesman for the company told the BBC. Research firm Euroconsult estimates that an average of 990 satellites will be launched every year for the next ten years, regardless of their mass.

Satellites are increasingly being used for communication, television, navigation and weather forecasting.

Researchers predict that by 2023 they will have a product ready for testing, by first looking for "appropriate wood candidates", and then conducting experiments "to see if they could be treated to stand up to space conditions", the report said.

As of October 2019, the USA space surveillance network reported almost 20,000 artificial objects in orbit above the Earth, including 2,218 operational satellites. About 60% of them are defunct (space junk).

Experts have flagged the risk posed by increased volumes of debris falling to the Earth as more satellites and spacecraft are launched. And space junk travels at an incredible speed of more than 22,300 miles per hour - meaning even a tiny piece can do a great deal of damage, just like the tiny piece of space junk that collided with the ISS in 2006, taking a chip out of the heavily reinforced window. Over the years, there have been numerous incidents involving collisions with satellite debris, including one where a piece of space junk collided with the International Space Station (ISS) and dealt damage to one of its heavily reinforced windows. Especially now that several prominent companies like Space X and Amazon are planning to launch thousands of satellites for their campaign to create global satellite connectivity, the stakes for cleaning up and managing these junks are higher.

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