Toothpicks. Tables. Crates. Spoons. Satellites? An ambitious project will send a tiny wooden satellite into orbit later this year to see if it can stand up to the brutal conditions of space. It's already survived a test run into the stratosphere.
The WISA Woodsat is a 4-inch (10-centimeter) square satellite that's scheduled for a fall launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in New Zealand. Getting to orbit is only part of the adventure. Once it's there, the team will monitor the little cube to see how its plywood build stands up to cold, heat, radiation and the vacuum of space.
Woodsat is the brainchild of Jari Makinen, co-founder of CubeSat replica kit company Arctic Astronautics. The European Space Agency, or ESA, is providing a suite of sensors to track the satellite's performance and will also help with pre-flight testing.
The plywood satellite's only non-wood parts on the outside are aluminum rails needed to release the satellite into space and an extendable selfie stick that will hold a camera pointed back at the body. A more typical CubeSat would be made with more metal components.
"The base material for plywood is birch, and we're using basically just the same as you'd find in a hardware store or to make furniture," said Woodsat chief engineer and Arctic Astronatics co-founder Samuli Nyman in an ESA statement last week.
The plywood used in the satellite has been dried out and treated to give it a better chance of standing up to space conditions. Woodsat's team expects the exterior to darken, but will also be looking to see if any cracks develop while it's in orbit.
A Woodsat test model hitched a ride into the stratosphere on a weather balloon on June 12. "The main goal of this short flight was to use the systems and camera equipment of the satellite in space-like conditions," Arctic Astronautics said in a statement. The flight lasted just under three hours. The plywood came out just fine and the camera worked as expected.
If Woodsat performs well, it could spur a new look at wood as a possible material for use in space. "In the end," Makinen said, "Woodsat is simply a beautiful object in terms of traditional Nordic design and simplicity, it should be very interesting to see it in orbit."
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