When you think of creating an object that will travel 40,000 kilometers per hour (25,000 miles per hour) as it pushes up and out of the atmosphere, ready to live out its’ days rapidly circling Earth in orbit, the material that comes to mind would probably not be wood. Maybe heat-resistant alloys, or even a lightweight polymer, but most wouldn’t even consider building a satellite out of wood.
Well, a Finnish collaboration thinks you are wrong, and they’re going to prove it by the end of 2021.
In a press release published last week, Arctic Astronautics, UPM Plywood and Huld have announced they will be launching the world’s first-ever wooden satellite into orbit, in an effort to further understand just how durable plywood can be.
It may sound insane, but these guys know what they’re doing - the satellite, called the WISA Woodsat, is based on a current nanosatellite available for hobbyists to purchase and send their own satellite into orbit. What makes this so special is it will be built from just plywood, specially coated to deal with the intense conditions of space.
Of course, it will have to log its’ progress, so it has been fitted with a sensor suite and some cameras attached to a specialized, space-age selfie stick.
“The Wooden satellite with a selfie stick will surely bring goodwill and raise smiles, but essentially this is a serious science and technology endeavor. In addition to testing plywood, the satellite will demonstrate accessible radio amateur satellite communication, host several secondary technology experiments, validate the Kitsat platform in orbit, and popularize space technology to the public”, says Jari Mäkinen, WISA Woodsat mission manager, in a statement.
If the mission is a success, it would validate treated wood as a cheap and available alternative for use in space vehicle applications. NASA probably won’t be sending all-wooden satellites into orbit in the near future, but it is certainly an interesting concept that will generate a lot of interest in the continued exploration of space.
The WISA Woodsat is based on a current nanosatellite called Kitsat. Kitsat is a fully functional tiny satellite that can be used by universities and hobbyists to get real-world satellite experience and is currently on sale to the public for around $1,500. In keeping with its’ tiny stature, the Kitsat is mainly used for educational purposes, and less so for continual research.
The Woodsat will be just 10 cm cubed, 1 kilogram heavy, and equipped with nine small solar cells to keep itself alive in orbit. It will be carried into space by Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle, a two-stage rocket that has been in service since 2017. Intended for lift-off from New Zealand by the end of the year, so expect to see a tiny wooden satellite in low orbit very soon (if you look really, really hard).