Japan's LignoSat2: Pioneering Wooden Satellite to Orbit in 2024

Japan’s LignoSat2: Pioneering Wooden Satellite to Orbit in 2024

Could the next big thing in space be….wood? Yup, we’re talking a peck of birch, a beam of oak…and even a splash of magnolia floating among the stars someday. Japan now plans to launch the first ever wooden satellite into orbit in 2024.

Dubbed LignoSat2, this eco-friendly orbiter began with scientists sending a few special wood samples up to the International Space Station in 2020. They had to test which earthly tree could withstand the harsh realities of space without cracking up.

Turns out floating in constant frigid darkness without air or moisture takes a real toll on materials over time. Who knew? But three wood candidates – birch, Japanese cherry and magnolia – actually held up super well after 290 days of space torture.

See, unlike metal satellites that can rain tiny toxic bits down to Earth when they eventually burn up in the atmosphere, wood disintegrates cleanly. So upon close inspection back on Earth, team Ligno (that means “wood” in Latin) picked magnolia, known as hoonoki in Japan, to build their satellite body.

This magnolia wood showed incredible stability and workability under the most fluxing conditions up there in the void. While other samples cracked or bent, magnolia stayed strong as..well, a tree!

Now the hunt is on for all the exact right gear to pack inside LignoSat2 when it launches on a NASA rocket over the summer with JAXA, Japan’s space agency. The team hasn’t revealed much yet, but you can bet its innards will bristle with tech to monitor how the wooden hull withstands radiation, temperature swings and more over a full year orbiting Earth.

All eyes will be on this funky chunk of orbiting timber. Because mastering eco-friendly satellites today means opening sustainable space missions tomorrow. No more worrying about man-made space junk cluttering up the neighborhood 270 miles overhead.

LignoSat2 proves eco-engineering can be out-of-this-world cool. And if a modest magnolia tree can make it in space, well then maybe us earthlings have a fighting chance up there too! Even if we are mostly water…and rather flammable. Hmm, back to the drawing board on human test missions!