The number of satellites being put into orbit is always increasing, and many researchers and scientists worldwide fear the amount of space junk that will accumulate in orbit around the Earth. A Japanese company called Sumitomo Forestry is working with researchers from Kyoto University to develop the first satellites made of wood by 2023. Sumitomo Forestry says that it has started research on tree growth and the use of wood materials in space.
The partnership between the company and the University will start by experimenting with different wood types in extreme environments on Earth. According to the partners, wooden satellites would burn up in the atmosphere without releasing harmful substances or raining debris onto the ground. Kyoto University Professor Takao Doi says there is concern that all satellites that reenter the Earth’s atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles that float in the upper atmosphere for many years.
Doi believes that eventually, the floating particles will affect the environment of Earth. The next stage of the project is to develop an engineering model of the wooden satellite, and then a flight model of the satellite will be created. Doi is also an astronaut for JAXA and visited the ISS in 2008. Interestingly, Doi was the first person to throw a boomerang in space specially designed to be used in microgravity.
Sumitomo Forestry says that it will develop wooden materials that are highly resistant to temperature changes and sunlight. However, the company is keeping the type of wood it is using for the project as a closely held secret. Currently, almost 6000 satellites are circling the Earth, and according to the World Economic Forum, about 60 percent of them are space junk.
A research firm called Euroconsult estimates that 990 additional satellites would be launched each year this decade. If accurate, there could be 15,000 satellites in orbit by 2028. Considering SpaceX alone has plans to put thousands of Starlink satellites into orbit, that estimate sounds very low.