World’s first wooden satellite to be launched by Japan in 2023

From Nikkei Asia,

Sumitomo Forestry studies potential for wood materials in extreme environments

A wooden satellite could house components used for data transmission or attitude control.

HIROYASU ODA, Nikkei staff writer

December 24, 2020 05:22 JST

TOKYO — Japanese logging company Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University are planting the seeds for a 2023 launch of the world’s first satellite made out of wood.

The partners announced their intentions on Wednesday, saying the aim was basic research and proof of concept.

They have agreed to conduct research on tree growth and the use of wood materials in space. They hope to promote technology for using wood in extreme environments on Earth.

Wood does not block electromagnetic waves or the Earth’s magnetic field. This enables devices such as antennas and attitude control mechanisms to be placed inside a wooden satellite, allowing for simpler structures. In addition, when a wooden satellite de-orbits and plunges back to Earth, it would burn up completely without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground.

Full article here.


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January 3, 2021 2:19 am

Gunna want something nice and tough.

Reply to  fred250
January 3, 2021 3:07 am

Wood strength is inversely proportional to its temperature and moisture content. At 3K and near vacuum of space wood might either splinter into tiny bits or acquire metallic strength. I assume they’ve tested behaviour of numerous samples of different wood under such conditions.

Reply to  Vuk
January 3, 2021 8:56 am

Shiver me timbers!!!

Reply to  ResourceGuy
January 3, 2021 1:01 pm

I wooden do that if I were you.

Reply to  fred250
January 3, 2021 3:29 am

I wonder why Australia has the hardest woods?

Now we will have to rate wood by neutron cross-section…

dodgy geezer
Reply to  bonbon
January 3, 2021 5:42 am

When you see their insect life you will understand….

Reply to  bonbon
January 3, 2021 5:56 am

Australian Bull Oak is strongest, but next half a dozen in the top ten are Brazilian.

Reply to  Vuk
January 3, 2021 12:00 pm

Not according to the link I posted.. Worth a read. 🙂

Reply to  Vuk
January 4, 2021 5:22 am

Where does Iron Bark fit?

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Hivemind
January 4, 2021 4:35 pm

I have tried chopping that stuff up with an axe before, the axe didn’t last long.

Ron Long
Reply to  fred250
January 3, 2021 7:08 am

No problem, fred250, everyone knows a woody is very hard.

Reply to  Ron Long
January 3, 2021 12:03 pm

Here’s a good woody

comment image

Patrick MJD
Reply to  fred250
January 4, 2021 4:37 pm

I really like these old American “Woody” classic cars. The best the Brits could do was a Morris Minor Traveller which, if you can find one, cost a small fortune.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Ron Long
January 3, 2021 12:52 pm

It softens with age.

Reply to  Dave Fair
January 4, 2021 12:41 pm

If I want to get wood, I have to buy it at the hardware ! 🙂

January 3, 2021 2:23 am

I don’t expect they’re looking for any real longevity.

What place wood has in satellite/spaceship design is beyond my ken.

At any rate, I’ll not be first in line to volunteer to ride out on a plywood spaceship. 😏

Reply to  Philip
January 3, 2021 8:25 am

Upshot is, all you need for repairs is Elmers Glue™.

Bill Parsons
Reply to  Philip
January 3, 2021 6:23 pm

Depends on how many ply.

Reply to  Bill Parsons
January 4, 2021 1:37 am

For me anything wood pulp has got to be at least 2 ply or I’m not using it. 😁

January 3, 2021 2:23 am

From box kite to satellite

That’s progress

Reply to  fretslider
January 3, 2021 5:49 am

Similarly, the Flintstones were way ahead of their time.

Patrick MJD
January 3, 2021 2:52 am

Isn’t that a Futurama sketch when Bender, goes wood?

Last edited 2 years ago by Patrick MJD
January 3, 2021 3:20 am

Engineered wood is a much underrated material.
one example –
The de Havilland Mosquito ( made from plywood ) was one of the most successful planes in WW2 & could still fly operationally after sustaining damage that would have destroyed other ‘conventional planes’.

John Tillman
Reply to  saveenergy
January 3, 2021 3:46 am

Red Air Force La-5 fighter was also mostly wooden.

zurab abayev
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 4:57 am

yes, lagg-5 was totally wooden but it’s nickname among Soviet pilots in ww2 was lacquered guaranteed coffin ( лакированный гарантированный гроб). it tells you something…

Reply to  zurab abayev
January 3, 2021 5:21 am

La-5 was a crappy aircraft structurally by design, not so much due to materials. The engine was a dog too. So what names the Russians had for it were well deserved. A few design changes and a decent engine and the La-5FN could go up against the Bf-109 G6 as an equal.

The Mossie was a different matter altogether. Fast, close on 400mph, and could manoeuvre as well as any single seat fighter but by late 1944 it had timed out. Hawker Typhoons, FW190Ds, Bf109 10s. ME262s…
I love WW2 era aircraft.

John Savage
Reply to  Philip
January 3, 2021 6:47 am

And built from non-strategic materials with underemployed furniture makers. Brilliant on so many levels.

Reply to  John Savage
January 3, 2021 10:16 am

Timeline has a nice video expose of the Mosquito on YouTube if you are interested.

John Tillman
Reply to  Philip
January 3, 2021 10:31 am

La-5’s radial engine was way better than LaGG-3’s liquid-cooled engine. La-5 wasn’t crappy, but LaGG-3 was. La-5 kept getting upgraded as well.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 11:53 pm

LAGG-3 ended with LAGG-66. First production La-5’s were mutant builds grafting the nose section of a Sukhoi Su-2 onto a LAGG-66 and they were terrible. It took quite a bit of field to production modification to resolve the first gen La-5 issues. When the variant reached La-5FN the Russians actually had something relative to the German Bf109 variant of the same period. The Bf109 G2 and G6. Which is not to say that the La-5FN through La-7 kept pace with the German Bf109 variants. They didn’t. Significant La-5FN and La-7 losses highlight that.

John Tillman
Reply to  Philip
January 4, 2021 6:41 am

The Su-2 mount was for the prototype. The first production planes were a better fit. Initial La-5 variant left lots of room for improvement, but was better than LaGG-3. Stalin ordered into production without further testing and development.

John Tillman
Reply to  zurab abayev
January 3, 2021 10:27 am

You’re thinking of the LaGG-3.

La-5 had a more powerful radial engine, which transformed its performance.

Gudkov, he second “G” left the design team, but Gorbunov, the first “G”, stayed on and had the idea to switch power plant. For whatever reason, the designation was changed just to La-5 (for Lavochkin), without crediting Gorbunov, despite his remaining on the design team.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 10:40 am

Its late war derivative La-7 equipped elite Guards Fighter Aviation Regiments. Red Air Force brass considered it their best fighter. At lower altitudes, it was superior to Bf 109 and Fw 190.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 10:47 am

From La-7’s introduction in June 1944, the Luftwaffe assigned its best fighter units to oppose the Guards Regiments with it on the Fronts to which they were deployed. Some of La-5’s wooden components were replaced by metal alloys in La-7. Its engine was also more powerful, derived from a license-built copy of Wright R-1820-F3 Cyclone.

La-5’s engine also was a development of the Wright Cyclone.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 10:53 am


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John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 11:07 am

Allegedly top Soviet and Allied ace:

Flew La-5 until August 1944, then La-7. Credited with an Me 262 jet in February 1945. Also possibly two P-51s in self-defense, but this is disputed.

Commanded 324th Fighter Aviation Division (MiG-15) in China during the Korean War, but supposedly wasn’t allowed to fly missions against UN forces himself.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 11:35 am

In an interview shortly before his death in 1991, Marshal Kozhedub rated La-7 as the best fighter of the war. As a tactical interceptor under 5000 meters, he might have been right. But it wasn’t a fighter bomber, and was too short-legged for long-range bomber escort. La-11 was designed as a strategic bomber escort fighter, after the USSR was able to copy B-29 as Tu-4.

In May 1945, the great British test pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown was able to fly a La-7 captured by the Germans. He described its handling and performance as “quite superb”, but the armament and sights were “below par”, the “wooden construction would have withstood little combat punishment” and the instrumentation was “appallingly basic”.

I don’t know if Kozhedub ever got the chance to fly Luftwaffe fighters, let alone American, British and Japanese.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 3, 2021 1:04 pm

The Spruce Goose

I got a chance to walk through it once. That beastie is HUUUUGE.

John Tillman
Reply to  MarkW
January 3, 2021 3:17 pm

Me, too.

Resides in my home state, whence came much of its spruce.

Peta of Newark
Reply to  saveenergy
January 3, 2021 5:12 am

“”Wood does not block electromagnetic waves“”

Does that mean the wood does block the would if it could it woodblock the blockblock waves.
If it could, it wood I ‘spose. I wouldn’t know
Actually, blocks of (oil-soaked) wood make very good bearings.
Good job no-one told Adlof Hinter while the RAF was using mozzies to blow up his (conventional) bearing factories.

Meanwhile, trying desperately to veer back On Topic..
Strictly, the waves are not blocked (this goes to the very heart of what Trapped Heat is all about also), They Are Reflected or scattered.

Remind me, How much $$$$$ was spent developing Stealth Technology for aircraft, tanks etc….

Didn’t matter in WW2 anyway, RAF pilots ate a lot of carrots
They also had this to alert them to the presence of carrots

I used to work directly underneath that tower 🙂

January 3, 2021 3:22 am

NASA’s Ranger III had balsa wood in 1962 :
Ranger 3 is still in orbit!

Not sure if anything remotely like today’s tsunami of green imperatives could have even been imagined in 1962.

My previous auto, a Ford, had a beautiful walnut dashboard.

Stunts like this could start a tsunami of auto options – why stop at lithium?

January 3, 2021 3:35 am

The big problem with wood has always been rot. (I presume that’s why there are so many airworthy Mustangs and Spitfires, and so few De Havilland Mosquitos, still surviving.) Rot won’t be a problem in space.

Also, I smiled at this admission that CO2 is harmless:

…without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere…

Reply to  Dave Burton
January 3, 2021 4:18 am

Japan should launch this with SpaceX’s new methane propulsion which Musk likes a lot.
Two harmful substances dismissed with one fell swoop?

John Endicott
Reply to  bonbon
January 5, 2021 2:19 am

CO2 isn’t harmful, it’s a necessity for life on this planet.

Reply to  Dave Burton
January 3, 2021 12:24 pm

One Mosquito is – hopefully – going to fly again.


January 3, 2021 3:41 am

IKEA could be the main sponsor. Maybe sell a line of kit, screw together satellites.

Reply to  Lank
January 3, 2021 5:19 am
Reply to  Hans Erren
January 3, 2021 5:50 am

That’s inconvenient.

Bill Parsons
Reply to  Hans Erren
January 3, 2021 8:38 am

Tried to give this two plusses. Didn’t work.

Flight Level
January 3, 2021 3:42 am

One of the most valiant WW2 planes, the “Mosquito”, was made out of wood. Back then, this was a necessity due to war restrictions and disseminated redundant production logistics.

Which IMHO reduces this (and any) wooden satellite to nothing more than a cynical virtue signaling given the outstanding properties of today’s materials.

Reply to  Flight Level
January 3, 2021 1:10 pm

It’s not virtue signaling, it’s advertising.

Nick Graves
January 3, 2021 5:17 am

Perhaps there is an undetected chocolate teapot orbiting the earth after all.

“Wood is an unreliable building material best suited for making trees” – LJK Setright.

Peter W
January 3, 2021 5:30 am

Oh, good! Another way to get rid of some of that terrible carbon before it gets converted to CO2!

Ed Zuiderwijk
January 3, 2021 6:10 am

Beware aliens with axes …..

Mark - Helsinki
January 3, 2021 6:58 am

Thermal changes would be my main concern. Otherwise, most of the things that degrade and destroy wood down here are not present up there.

If it can handle the thermal situation, then I think it’s going to have longevity

January 3, 2021 7:17 am

This is so stupid, I just can’t…

January 3, 2021 7:45 am

This is certainly not the first satellite to have wooden parts.
China, ever the pragmatic (and occasionally low-tech) country, was there first:

Specifically, the wood was used in the heat-shield. Apparently it was impregnated oak, and apparently it worked, several times.

Reply to  Joe
January 3, 2021 2:02 pm

Oak layers are also used in light weight safes to resist penetration by burn bars. The oak chars to become carbon which can’t be melted.

Gregory Woods
January 3, 2021 8:17 am

and it is to be launched using a giant wooden springboard….

January 3, 2021 9:11 am

How many Paris Agreement points is that?

Robert of Texas
January 3, 2021 9:12 am

Oh great! Space termites…just what we need!

michael hart
January 3, 2021 9:57 am

Nice bit of advertising.
Significance, zero.

Intelligent Dasein
January 3, 2021 11:00 am

I would think the ionizing radiation and particle flux would break volatile moieties off the cellulose pretty quickly. You would end up with a cloud of gasses and carbon dust.

Michael S. Kelly
January 3, 2021 11:58 am

China successfully used oak as a blunt-body heat-shield material in its early reentry vehicles, and even the United States tested wooden nose tips for the more modern conical RVs.

All US submarine launched ballistic missiles have shrouds (the nose fairing covering the reentry vehicles) made of spruce. The shrouds have lifting lugs built in to allow cranes to pick up the missile and install it in the submarine’s launch tube. The Trident D-5 weighs 130,000 pounds, and is lifted in this manner. After test flights, the shrouds are generally found intact in the ocean.

Lots of comments here about the Mosquito, which was an amazing wooden aircraft (though it didn’t fare well structurally in the Pacific Theatre’s climate). I would add that the Spruce Goose (Hercules H-4), Howard Hughes’ gigantic flying boat, was made entirely of wood. It had the largest wingspan of any aircraft until Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch. Also, the German rocket-powered Me-163 interceptor had wooden wings. For quite some time, it held an aviation speed record of 1,000 km/hr.

Wood has also been used by a number of rocket propulsion companies (including one I owned) for rapid prototyping of rocket engines; by that I mean engines that are actually fired. Chambers and nozzles are easily turned on a wood lathe, and a fiberglass overwrap that allows high operating pressure is equally easy to apply. The burn times have to be short, if one wants the test article intact, but not as short as one might imagine.

Wood is an underrated material.

Last edited 2 years ago by Michael S. Kelly
Mumbles McGuirck
January 3, 2021 12:45 pm

Plus the satellites can be reused as bento boxes.
Did the British Mosquitoes have scroll work rather than nose art?

January 3, 2021 1:01 pm

Most satellites already burn up completely. When parts of them do make it to the ground it is things like fuel tanks, which presumably won’t be made out of wood, even in a wooden satellite.

January 3, 2021 1:17 pm

I love wood as a structural product. Many advantages despite the insane increases in cost recently. Thing is, for exo-atmospheric applications ordinary composites are generally better.

Important thing to remember is that both wood and ordinary composites are somewhat stealthy. I would bet this is a field test of stealth performance rather than any Green or Sustainable stunt.

Steven Curtis Lohr
January 3, 2021 3:44 pm

If you have ever worked with some of the denser tropical hardwoods you would believe they were actually a form of lite metal. They really are astounding, however, there are a lot of people who frown on cutting those kinds of trees.

January 3, 2021 3:54 pm

Wood does not block electromagnetic waves or the Earth’s magnetic field. This enables devices such as antennas and attitude control mechanisms to be placed inside a wooden satellite, allowing for simpler structures.”

Wood doesn’t like UV rays; as so many boat owners, fence owners and house siding owners have learned over the years.

And that is for wood somewhat protected by Earth’s ozone layer and miles of water vapor laden atmosphere.

Up in space where the sun’s radiation and solar wind are full strength coupled with the vacuum of space removing everything volatile and keeping wood solid…

Sounds like a quick end to the wooden box.
What’s next wooden rocket boosters? Nothing falls to the ground?

January 3, 2021 6:28 pm

The ‘spaceman’ in the red convertible needs a coffee table. Probably a cup of coffee by now. But I wonder …. where does he pee !

Reply to  eyesonu
January 4, 2021 12:49 pm

“where does he pee !”

Where do you think yellow snow comes from !

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