While most satellites these days use the highest grade metals that can withstand the harsh environment of space, Japan has started developing a satellite that will be made out of wood to help prevent space junk and harmful particles from falling off as they re-enter the atmosphere.
Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University have developed a new type of wood that they claim will be able to rival current materials used in manufacturing satellites. Current materials release harmful particles in the atmosphere as they burn up during re-entry. This new material will be used in a satellite instead of the aluminum.
“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.”
“Eventually it will affect the environment of the Earth.”
Takao Doi, professor at Kyoto University and former JAXA Astronaut
Currently they are in development of the engineering model of the satellite, and it isn’t stated what the satellite will do while in space. The next step will be to develop the flight model that will launch into space.
Wood has been used in the past in space already on very specific circumstances like heat shields. Wood is less dense than metal so a strain of wood that could be as durable as metal in space could lead to a lighter weight spacecraft. The downside of using wood is when it re-enters, it burns off carbon dioxide — something that isn’t exactly beneficial to the environment.