Japanese Scientists are Developing Wooden Satellites

Japan is working on reducing space junk by using satellites made from wood.

Satellites connecting to Earth from space.

(sdecoret / Shutterstock.com)

Space is an incredible place. Between the vastness of the universe to the infinite number of stars, many aspects of space remain a mystery. Satellites orbiting the atmosphere may help unravel many mysteries, yet once their mission is finished, they can harm the environment. A Japanese company is saving the skies by testing a wooden satellite that functions perfectly and leaves no trace in the starry sky.

Satellites have been orbiting Earth since 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 into space. Currently, there are around 6,000 satellites in space, as reported by the World Economic Forum. Unfortunately, around 60 percent of these satellites are no longer in operation and are aptly called space junk.

As stated on the BBC, these pieces fly extremely fast, moving at a speed of 22,300 mph or faster, and anything that comes into contact with space junk can be severely damaged. The pieces eventually burn up in the atmosphere and then fall onto Earth or crash into functioning satellites, negatively impacting both the environment as well as to other satellites.

Many more satellites will soon orbit the Earth, with research from Euroconsult predicting that 990 satellites will be launched each year over the next ten years. This means that by the year 2028, there may be over 15,000 satellites. And with such a huge amount of satellites in orbit, the problem of space junk will become more pressing.

Japanese company Sumitomo Forestry, together with Kyoto University, is working to develop a solution to space junk, according to the BBC. By 2023, they are planning to create the world’s first satellite made entirely out of wood.

Takao Doi, a professor at Kyoto University as well as a Japanese astronaut, told the BBC, "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.” This can result in substances being released into the atmosphere which are damaging and can even “rain” particles back on Earth. These non-operational satellites can negatively impact the Earth’s environment. 

When it comes to the wooden satellites, they must be extremely resistant to both the sun and temperature changes, both of which are experienced in space. Prototypes are currently being tested in extreme conditions on Earth to check their strength and durability. The wood that they are using is actually secret, so Japan can be the first to develop these satellites.

As stated on Nikkei Asia, wood doesn’t block the Earth’s magnetic field or electromagnetic waves. This is beneficial because this is exactly what satellites use to communicate. Within a satellite made from wood, attitude control mechanisms and antennas can be stored. This is much simpler than the structure of current satellites orbiting the Earth.

Although space is still a mystery, Japan’s satellite development sheds light on a problem we may be able to solve. With less space junk, the threat of damage to both the Earth and other satellites will decrease. This will also enable us to gaze at the sky with renewed appreciation, marveling at how amazing space can be.

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