Japanese company Sumitomo Forestry is collaborating with Kyoto University to develop the world’s first wooden satellite. The two entities have already started research to determine the possibility of using wood in space. This research will test tree growth and wood use in extreme environments on Earth. If these tests are successful, the project hopes to introduce the wood-inspired satellite by 2023.
According to Sumitomo Forestry, wooden satellites provide an ideal solution for reducing space junk. Space experts have warned about increased space junk caused by satellites. The World Economic Forum estimates that about 6,000 satellites are circling Earth, of which 60% are defunct.
Satellites often launch into space for different uses. Unfortunately, once the satellites serve their purpose, they remain in space. These satellites slowly disintegrate, leaving alumina particles or other metals in the upper atmosphere. These pieces may stay in the atmosphere for ages. Besides atmospheric pollution, the satellites themselves pose a potential risk should they fall to Earth.
According to Kyoto University researchers, wood satellites can disintegrate in space without producing life-threatening junk. Once a satellite has served its purpose, it will slowly fall apart, thus avoiding the creation of additional space junk.
Takao Doi, a professor at Kyoto University, says that if action is not taken about space junk now, it will eventually affect Earth’s environment. “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,” Professor Doi said in an interview. Regarding the project’s next steps, he added “The next stage will be developing the engineering model of the satellite, then we will manufacture the flight model.”
Research firm Euroconsult predicts that if all factors remain constant, approximately 990 satellites will be launched into space each year throughout the next decade. This means that we could have about 15,000 satellites orbiting Earth by 2028. Today, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has already launched more than 900 Starlink satellites into space, and the company plans to deploy thousands more. Without sustainability plans, these endeavors will likely contribute to the space junk problem.
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