Finnish company Arctic Astronautics is sending the world’s first wooden satellite into space by the end of this year. The satellite, WISA Woodsat, is a cube-shaped nanosatellite made up of birch plywood and has sensors developed by the European Space Agency. The cube satellite is sized 10cm each in length, height and width. The move is aimed to test if wood as a material can survive the vacuum, cold, heat and radiation in space. “Why don’t we fly any wooden materials in space?” wonders Jari Makinen, the mind behind the Woodsat. Makinen is a co-founder of Arctic Astronautics. His company makes satellite replicas that are fully functional and orbit ready. The replicas are mostly used for education, training and hobby purposes.
The wood used in the satellite has been vacuum-dried to lose the humidity that can cause trouble in space. The non-wood parts outside the wooden satellite are a metal selfie stick and corner aluminium rails for the purpose of its deployment in space.
The satellite will be launched from New Zealand on a rocket Electron developed by Rocket Lab, an American aerospace manufacturer. The pre-flight testing of WISA Woodsat indicates that it will survive in an orbit as high as 500-600 kilometres, despite its exposure to atomic oxygen. However, unfiltered ultraviolet sunlight will darken the wood, as per scientists’ anticipation.
To monitor if and how the satellite survives the harsh conditions of the lower earth orbit, ESA is deploying a suite of sensors to the satellite. “The first item we’re embarking is a pressure sensor, which will allow us to identify the local pressure in onboard cavities in the hours and days after launch into orbit,” said Riccardo Rampini, head of ESA’s Materials’ Physics and Chemistry, as per the ESA news release. The sensors also include a contamination monitoring tool that will measure any sensitive deposits happening on either the circuit board or the wooden body of the satellite.
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