A company in Finland has developed a satellite made of wood that it plans to launch into orbit this year.
The small, experimental satellite aims to test the effectiveness of wooden materials used in the extreme conditions of space.
The project is a cooperative effort between several Finnish businesses, including an engineering company, a maker of research satellites and a major wood producer.
The European Space Agency is supporting the mission by assisting with pre-flight testing and providing sensors to be placed inside the satellite.
The wooden satellite is considered a CubeSat. A CubeSat is a small satellite mainly used for research purposes by universities and non-profit organizations.
The one developed in Finland, called WISA Woodsat, is a cube measuring 10 centimeters on all sides. The main structure of the satellite is completely made of wood. It was built by Arctic Astronautics, a company that also produces and sells CubeSats for educational purposes.
Jari Makinen is the co-founder of Arctic Astronautics and is leading the Woodsat mission. He told Reuters the goal of the project is to expose the satellite’s plywood material to the extremes of heat, cold, pressure and radiation.
Since it will be the first wooden satellite launched into orbit, Makinen said it will be the first test of how such materials might be used to develop future space structures. For example, wood could be used to build parts of spacecraft or space stations. “We are starting to study the behavior of wood in space,” he said.
Finland’s UPM Plywood supplied the wood -- created from birch trees -- for the project. The company says it treated the wood with heat in a vacuum to dry it out and add strength. A compound containing aluminum and oxygen was also put on the wood to protect it against highly reactive oxygen found in space.
UPM says it has already carried out many tests with the wood and found it to perform very well in harsh environments. The company said Woodsat is made of a sustainable plywood that could be used to replace fossil fuel materials heavily used in the space industry.
Mission planners have carried out several test flights and say they plan to launch Woodsat aboard a Rocket Lab-built Electron rocket from New Zealand in the autumn.
The most recent test flight was carried out last Saturday in Finland. A balloon carried Woodsat to an altitude of 31 kilometers in a part of Earth’s upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere. The flight lasted about three hours and “all the systems performed as planned,” Makinen said in a statement.
When it deploys for its full mission, Woodsat is expected to orbit at an altitude of about 500 to 600 kilometers, the European Space Agency said.
Makinen says Woodsat was also built with two cameras, one of which the satellite can extend on a “selfie stick.” The reason for this camera is to permit the mission team to watch what is happening to the satellite at all times.
“We want to have photos of the surface in space,” Makinen told Reuters. “How does it develop…day by day, is the color changing? We want to see what is happening.” The selfie camera may be able to capture evidence of cracks or other damage.
Makinen says he does not believe there will be a huge demand for wooden satellites anytime soon. However, he does think “there will be a niche” for wood-based materials to be used in space.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the European Space Agency, Reuters, Arctic Astronautics and UPM. Hai Do was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
mission – n. a flight by an aircraft or spacecraft to perform a specific task
cube – n. a solid object with six square sides of equal size
expose – v. to put at rise from something harmful
vacuum – n. an empty space where there is no air or other gas
sustainable – adj. involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
fossil fuels – n. fuels such as coal, oil, or natural gas formed in the earth from dead plants or animals
selfie – n. a picture a person takes of themselves, usually with a mobile phone
niche – n. a job or activity that is very suitable for someone