Wooden satellites? Japan proves magnolia has right stuff for space

TOKYO – A team from Kyoto University and Japanese logging company Sumitomo Forestry confirmed that wood is highly durable in orbit after a 10-month experiment on the International Space Station, paving the way for plans to launch a satellite made from wood next year.

The discovery, announced by the university last week, could lead to satellites with simpler designs that are less prone to failure.

A satellite made from magnolia wood will be launched next year to test viability, Kyoto University said.

In March 2022, the partnership commissioned the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to test three types of wood used for furniture and other products at the International Space Station’s Kibo experiment module.

The wood was placed outside the station for about 10 months to investigate whether its quality deteriorated due to temperature changes and cosmic radiation. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata assisted in the experiment.

The wood returned to Earth revealed no signs of cracks, warping or other visual deterioration, with almost no change in weight, the university said.

The partnership will continue a detailed analysis, looking at the strength of the wood. The results will be used to shed light on how wood deteriorates in space and develop technologies to prevent it.

Of the three types of wood, magnolia, which has the highest workability and strength, will be used to develop an experimental satellite. The small satellite measuring about 10 centimeters on each side will be made using wood for parts that were conventionally made of aluminum.

Since wood allows electromagnetic waves to pass through easily, the satellite’s antennas can be housed inside to simplify the structure.

Satellite antennas are typically deployed and unfolded outside of the craft, a structure that is prone to accidents and mechanical failure. The use of wooden satellites would sidestep this risk. Wooden satellites will be able to completely burn up on reentry once the operational life is completed, which is said to reduce the environmental impact.


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