Scientists look to satellites made of wood to reduce ‘space junk’

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Scientists look to satellites made of wood to reduce ‘space junk’

As more satellites are launched into the atmosphere, they add to a growing problem – space junk circling the Earth. A satellite made of wood will burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground when it plunges back to Earth. “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,” Takao Doi, a professor at Kyoto University and Japanese astronaut, told the BBC. “Eventually it will affect the environment of the Earth. The next stage will be developing the engineering model of the satellite, then we will manufacture the flight model,” Professor Doi added. Professor Doi visited the International Space Station in March 2008 and became the first person to throw a boomerang in space that had been specifically designed for use in microgravity. Sumitomo Forestry, part of the 400-year-old Sumitomo Group, will be working to develop wooden materials that can withstand temperature changes and sunlight, all as part of basic research and proof of concept. The wood being used is an “R&D” secret according to a company spokesperson. The research is also intended to come up with a wooden material that can be used in construction in extreme environments here on Earth.

The International Space Station — seen here on August 26, 2020 — is performing a maneuver to ensure it gets out of the way of a piece of space debris

Handout, NASA/AFP/File

Space junk is a huge problem Satellites are increasingly being used for communication, navigation, television, and weather forecasting. And eventually, even the very best of satellites reach a point where they quit working, falling into and burning up in the atmosphere. However, the remains of satellites don’t entirely disappear. Instead, tiny pieces and larger chunks of the satellites end up as more detritus in the ever-growing junkyard that is orbiting Earth. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), there are currently about 6,000 satellites circling the Earth, and at least 60 percent of them are not working. The research firm, Euroconsult, estimates that 990 satellites will be launched every year this decade, which means that by 2028, there could be 15,000 satellites in orbit. Daniel Oltrogge, director at the Center for Space Standards and Innovation (CSSI), says there are an estimated 760,000 objects larger than a centimeter (0.4 inches) now in orbit around Earth. And space junk travels at an incredible speed of more than 22,300 mph – meaning even a tiny piece can do a great deal of damage, just like the tiny piece of space junk that collided with the ISS in 2006, taking a chip out of the heavily reinforced window.

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