When you think about a satellite, you typically imagine a radar that is likely made out of some tough metal material to protect it from the rays of the Sun. But what if it was wooden and cubed?
Introducing LignoSat, a coffee mug-sized satellite that is comprised of wood, specifically magnolia wood. The mission is a joint project between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which are planning on launching the LignoSat into Earth's orbit sometime in 2024, likely before summer. So, why is it wood? Researchers want to test if wood is a viable option for space objects, as it has many benefits over materials typically used to build satellites.
Researchers sent three wood samples to the ISS earlier this year, and studies showed each of the samples didn't deteriorate after being exposed to space, which has an extreme environment that shifts dramatically in temperature. This has led researchers to build the LignoSat, and the type of wood that was chosen was magnolia as it less likely to shatter compared to cherry or birch, which was also tested on the ISS.
So, why should satellites be made out of wood? When a satellite has come to its end of life and is defunct, it becomes space junk, an exponential problem that not much is being done about at the moment. To reduce space junk, satellites can be constructed of wood, and then when they are out of commission, instructions can be sent for them to reenter Earth's atmosphere. Wooden satellites will completely burn up upon reentry, turning into a fine ash.