Japan set to launch first wood satellite

After extensive research, magnolia wood emerged as the ideal material for LignoSat. 

JAXA: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced that the world's first wooden satellite, LignoSat , will be launched into orbit this summer.

Woodworking Network over the last several years has written about research into wood-based space satellites including last summer's story that reported that wood from Magnolia's trees was the most likely candidate for the job.    

This appears to have been confirmed with the announcement that an innovative magnolia wood satellite from Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry aims to make spaceflight operations more environmentally sustainable because the LignoSat is biodegradable and will burn up upon reentry after 6 months, leaving only ash.

The World Economic Forum called this a significant step toward "eco-friendly space exploration ... This groundbreaking initiative aims to address the growing concerns of space debris and pave the way for a more sustainable future in orbit."

Traditional satellites, built with aluminum, release harmful particles when they re-enter Earth's atmosphere, potentially damaging the delicate ozone layer, the World Economic Forum reported.

In testing, Magnolia was one of three wood species exposed to the harsh vacuum of space by the International Space Station (ISS) in a research project led by Kyoto University. 

LignoSat nano wood satellite test panel
Preliminary tests of three wood species subjected to the vacuum of space for 10 months found no decomposition or deformations, such as cracking, warping, peeling, or surface damage.

Despite the extreme environment of outer space involving significant temperature changes and exposure to intense cosmic rays and dangerous solar particles for 10 months, tests confirmed no decomposition or deformations, such as cracking, warping, peeling, or surface damage, according to the June 4, 2023, Woodworking Network report. 

Kyoto University researchers said they favor using magnolia as the primary species for WoodSat because of its relatively high workability, dimensional stability, and overall strength. LignoSat, which has the backing of Sumitomo Forestry, is expected to be jointly launched in 2024 by NASA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency.

If successful, this could open the door to using wood more in satellite construction, reducing the environmental impact of space missions.

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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).