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Can satellites be made of wood?

Answer: We’re going to find out sometime later this year.

The Earth as seen from space.
Shutterstock.com
We’ve launched all sorts of satellites made of metal into orbit, but has anyone ever tried it with one made of wood? That was Jari Makinen’s thought when he decided to build and launch the world’s first wooden satellite.

The Finnish science journalist will be launching his craft, the Woodsat, in partnership with Rocket Lab and the European Space Agency (ESA). The former will be doing the actual launching with its Electron booster, while the ESA will fill the satellite with sensors. The craft will also carry onboard cameras, all so that the team can monitor how it’s wooden exterior handles the trip.

The Woodsat’s entire exterior, with the exception of corner aluminum railings and a selfie stick, will be made of a specially treated birch plywood. Plywood, however, is typically too humid to go into space, so the team put the satellite’s wood “in a thermal vacuum chamber to dry it out.” It was then treated further with aluminum oxide, to prevent it from emitting any unwanted vapors and to protect it from the atomic oxygen found in orbit at the edge of the atmosphere.

“In the end, Woodsat is simply a beautiful object in terms of traditional Nordic design and simplicity; it should be very interesting to see it in orbit,” Makinen said. “Our hope is it helps inspire people to take increased interest in satellites and the space sector as something that already touches all our lives, and is only going to get bigger in future.”
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