- Kyoto University is teaming up with Japanese forestry company Sumitomo Forestry to develop a wooden satellite to send into orbit.
- The idea is that a device made of wood could safely burn upon re-entry and would create less space junk.
- Space junk is becoming a growing concern amongst experts, who say it poses an environmental hazard.
Kyoto University is teaming up with a Japanese forestry company to develop wooden satellites to shoot into orbit by 2023 in an effort to cut down on space junk, the BBC reports.
Kyoto University professor and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi told the BBC the advantage of a wooden satellite is that if it falls out of orbit and burns up on re-entry, it wouldn’t release as many harmful particles as metal satellites.
“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,” Doi said.
Kyoto University and Sumitomo forestry will begin experimenting on how well different wood types can withstand extreme conditions on Earth with a view to developing a wood that can take wild fluctuations in temperature and sunlight.
Space junk and debris is becoming a growing concern among experts. “Space debris is increasingly of concern, and the collision of two massive space debris objects – ranging from one to ten metric tons – pose the greatest environmental risk,” Daniel Oltrogge, director at the Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI) told Business Insider. Although estimates vary, Oltrogge said the CSSI believes there 760,000 objects larger than a centimeter in size in orbit at the moment.
That number is ever-increasing, especially with commercial companies launching their own constellations of satellites. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched almost 900 of its high-speed internet Starlink satellites to date, and plans to eventually launch between 12,000 and 42,000.
Amazon is leading a similar project called Project Kuiper which won FCC approval in July to launch 3,236 satellites.