Is wood the secret to cleaner, greener space satellites?

The world's first wooden satellite LignoSat. (AFP)
The world's first wooden satellite LignoSat. (AFP)


Scientists plan to launch a model made of magnolia wood this fall.

When a defunct satellite re-enters Earth’s atmosphere it plunges to a fiery death releasing pollutants such as aluminum oxide, a main byproduct that scientists say depletes the ozone layer.

One solution? Make the satellites out of wood.

Takao Doi, a Japanese astronaut and engineer, and his team at Kyoto University in Japan have invented the world’s first wooden satellite, called LignoSat—a reference to the Latin word for “wood"—which they plan to launch later this year.

LignoSat is made of magnolia panels assembled using “sashimono," the Japanese art of linking wooden pieces together without glue or nails. The box is set into an aluminum frame and houses circuit boards. Solar panels and an antenna are mounted on the outside.

The engineers chose magnolia because it’s light, soft and relatively crack-resistant. When it’s retired, LignoSat will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, where its wooden parts will burn up into water vapor and carbon dioxide—a cleaner byproduct than aluminum oxide, according to Koji Murata, a scientist on the team. Although the satellite contains aluminum and other metals in the outer structure and circuit boards, the researchers said it’s less polluting than fully metal satellites.

There are roughly 13,450 satellites in space, with an average of 65 re-entering the atmosphere each month, according to U.S. Space Forces — Space.

Tatsuhito Fujita, an engineer at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who was not involved in the LignoSat research, said wooden satellites could theoretically produce less pollution. However, until wood is shown to be physically stable in space, it is unknown whether it will be an effective material in satellites, he added.

The first LignoSat model will be released into orbit this fall for six months. Doi and his team will monitor its reaction to temperature change and cosmic radiation, see how well it communicates radio signals to Earth and perform other essential tests.

Their hope is that in 10 years all satellites will be made of wood.

“We would like to show the world that wood can survive in space," Doi said, “and we would be able to use wood in building satellites as well as space stations or a moon base or Mars base."

Write to Kayla Yup at

Catch all the Technology News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.