This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
| 2 minutes read

The LignoSat is fantastic - wooden't you agree?

Outer space is perhaps the harshest environment we - and by extension our technology - have ever encountered. If any structure is to stand a chance of successfully operating in space, the materials from which it is composed must be rigorously tested and carefully selected. As far as satellites are concerned, this process of material selection often ends in the choosing of aluminium, to some extent or other.

Whilst this material choice may ensure the survival of the satellite in space, it can have an impact on the Earth’s ozone layer following re-entry. According to the below article, a satellite made from aluminium can deposit alumina particles in the Earth's upper atmosphere as it burns up upon re-entry. Recent research carried out by scientists at the University of British Columbia, Canada, revealed that aluminium from re-entering satellites could cause serious depletion of the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

Determined to reduce the environmental impact of satellite re-entry, researchers at Kyoto University have produced a highly innovative solution - as surprising as it is fantastic. A far cry from the popular notion of space structures as shining and silvery, these researchers have produced a satellite made of timber, and which is the size of a mere coffee mug!

The LignoSat probe, composed of magnolia wood, is scheduled to travel into outer space later this year. The choice of wood was not taken lightly, with the material first having been tested in laboratories in which the conditions of space had been recreated. Following these, samples of magnolia wood were sent to the International Space Station, undergoing exposure tests for nearly one year before returning to Earth.

The results of these tests showed that the magnolia wood had been subjected to very little damage following exposure in space. Astounded by these results, the researchers in Kyoto plan to monitor the deformation of magnolia wood during the operation of the LignoSat in space later this year - where it is expected to operate for at least six months.

Where the LignoSat proves capable of successfully operating in space, the ramifications for environmentally-friendly space activity are considerable. All over the world - and in the UK in particular - space activity is increasing, with an estimated 2,000 satellites set to be launched into orbit annually in the coming years. The more of these satellites which can be constructed from magnolia wood, the better. Upon re-entry into the atmosphere, the LignoSat will produce nothing more than a fine spray of biodegradable ash as it burns up - harmless to the environment. As such, the LignoSat stands as a great example of how thinking outside of the box can lead to an innovative solution to the environmental impact of space activity.

We at Marks & Clerk are always interested in learning about technological developments, and are following developments in the space sector with interest, in view of the recent increase in space activity in Scotland, and in the wider United Kingdom. This allows us to stay up to date with developments in the space and other sectors, while we help technological innovators to protect their intellectual property.

If the LignoSat performs well ­during its operation in orbit, then the door could be opened for the use of wood as a construction material for more satellites. It is estimated that more than 2,000 spacecraft are likely to be launched annually in coming years, and the aluminium that they are likely to deposit in the upper atmosphere as they burn up on re-entry could soon pose major environmental problems.


space, space technology, climate change, patents, transport, yes