Japan plans to launch wood satellite in 2023

TOKYO -- If all goes well, the world's first wooden satellite may be blasted into space in 2023 as Japanese astronauts are expected to begin tests in February to check the durability of wood in space.

A joint team from state-run Kyoto University and a Tokyo-based wood products company Sumitomo Forestry Co. will be using an extravehicular experimental apparatus of the International Space Station for the tests.

Led by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s astronaut Takao Doi, the plan is to “harness the environmental friendliness and low cost of wood in space development,” Tokyo-based Kyodo News reported on Dec. 31.

Early this month, for the first time in the past 13 years, Japan began a recruitment campaign for astronauts as it aims to send a mission to the Moon in the latter half of the 2020s.

The exterior of the planned satellite would be made of wood and “will burn up upon re-entering the earth's atmosphere after the end of its operation, giving less burden on the environment,” the team said.

Costs of the satellite will also be cheaper against the current prices where manufacturers use aluminum.

“Because electromagnetic waves can penetrate wood, the satellite can contain an antenna inside," the team said, adding that its outer parts "will be covered in wood and solar cells, and it will hold an electronic substrate inside.”

The structure will also carry wooden sheets, of varying hardness, carved out of different tree species.

“The sheets will remain exposed to outer space for about nine months to check their deterioration,” the team told the BBC.

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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).