A Japanese startup called Sumitomo Forestry is teaming up with Kyoto University to develop the world’s first satellites made out of wood by 2023 in an effort to cut down on space junk.
Wooden satellites would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere when they return to the Earth. This should minimize the amount of space debris that has been accumulating in orbit over the last decades, the researchers think.
“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 project is still in its very early stages. The team is currently investigating how various types of wood could withstand the extreme conditions of outer space. The wood-based material should be highly resistant to temperature changes and sunlight. After the selection of the wood, a prototype will be engineered to test the technology.
If all goes according to the plan, Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry plan to have developed the first satellite made of wood sometime in 2023.
As more satellites are launched into the atmosphere, space junk and debris are becoming a growing concern among experts. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), there are nearly 6,000 satellites circling Earth, and about 60% of them are defunct (space junk). Research firm Euroconsult estimates that an average of 990 satellites will be launched every year for the next ten years, regardless of their mass.