World’s First Wooden Satellite Will Not Add to Space Debris

NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are trying to make space exploration more sustainable by launching the world’s first wooden satellite.

The size of a coffee mug

LignoSat goes into orbit next summer. Only the size of a coffee mug, it looks like a little wooden box. Wood does not block magnetic fields or electronic waves, so the antenna can be on the inside.

CGI image depicting debris in low Earth orbit.

CGI image depicting debris in low Earth orbit. Image:


Made out of magnolia wood, the satellite will not become another piece of space junk at the end of its useful life. When the little satellite reenters Earth’s atmosphere, it will burn up and disintegrate. There is no threat of it crashing and harming anyone.

The second positive is that the more eco-friendly satellite is a less dangerous collision risk for the International Space Station and other crewed spacecraft.

The last perk is that the wood is not reflective. One of the major issues with so many metal satellites orbiting Earth is that light bounces off them. This noticeable effect impacts astronomy-based research.

No signs of decay

The joint team has been testing three prototypes made of different types of wood (magnolia, cherry, and birch) on the International Space Station. Researchers kept the three prototypes in the ISS Japanese Experimental Kibo Module, exposed to the conditions in space for 10 months. A Japanese astronaut retrieved the samples last January.

In the vacuum of space, the wood stayed intact, despite exposure to intense cosmic rays, dangerous solar particles, and extreme temperature changes. There was no “cracking, warping, peeling or surface damage,” the team wrote after the trials.

The wood samples.

The wood samples. Photo: NASA Johnson Space Center

“Wood’s ability to withstand simulated low Earth orbit conditions astounded us,” said Koji Morata of Kyoto University, which led the research. Wood has the same strength-to-weight ratio as aluminum. The cube-shaped LignoSat measures just 10 sq cm, and the prototype was built using traditional Japanese woodworking techniques.

The LignoSat prototype.

The LignoSat prototype. Photo: NanoSats


Though cypress and cedar are more common woodworking materials, they are unable to withstand the detailed work required on such a small satellite. The team finally settled on magnolia, which is the easiest to work with.

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.