Europe 1 / Photo credit: ESA/ATG medialab 5:21 p.m., February 19, 2024

Scientists at Kyoto University, Japan, have developed a satellite made of magnolia wood, a world first. With this machine, they want to reduce pollution in space where no less than 9,300 tons of space objects are present in orbit. The “LignoSat” test satellite is due to reach space before summer.

Towards a conquest of ecological space? To better understand climate change, scientists are increasingly turning to satellites. But these steel machines, located in orbit around the Earth, are also a significant source of pollution. According to estimates by the European Space Agency (ESA), there are around a million pieces of satellite or rocket debris larger than a centimeter in orbit, large enough to "disable a spacecraft." This represents no less than 9,300 tonnes of space objects, according to an Agency report.

Faced with this observation, Japan seems to want to take the lead by launching ecological satellites. Concretely, researchers from Kyoto University have developed a satellite made of magnolia wood. This, a world first, must be launched into space before the summer. 

Magnolia wood

This project, supported by NASA, was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) which wants to send the world's first wooden satellite into space. This mission aims to make spaceflight more sustainable. Developed by researchers at Kyoto University, the “LignoSat” test satellite, no larger than a cup of coffee, must reach Earth’s orbit before the summer of 2024.


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How researchers decided to use magnolia wood. By being biodegradable, wood, when it reaches the end of its life, will allow the LignoSat satellite to completely decompose in the atmosphere. But to know which species of tree to choose, samples of three specimens (magnolia, cherry, birch) were sent in early 2023 aboard the International Space Station (ISS). During their ten-month mission, these samples were placed in a module exposed to the extreme environment of space. After this experience, Japanese researchers decided to use magnolia wood, known for its robustness. 

“Zero waste”

In order to reduce space pollution as well as that of the Earth, the LignoSat satellite will be “zero waste” according to scientists. You should know that shiny metals, such as titanium or aluminum, used for satellite frames can be the source of significant light pollution. While in Earth's orbit, these metals increase the overall brightness of the night sky over much of the Earth by 10%. This reduction in light pollution would favor the observation of distant space phenomena. 


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With these biodegradable satellites, several risks are avoided according to researchers at Kyoto University. For them, the fact that the structure of the machine degrades helps reduce accidents in orbit and prevents debris from collapsing on the planet. Human lives, on Earth and in space, could therefore be saved.

Japanese space debris inspection probe launched

Japan seems very committed to protecting space. Like this Monday, where a Japanese company announced the successful launch of what it considers to be the first spacecraft with the mission of inspecting waste in orbit, which is increasingly numerous and potentially dangerous.

The mission of Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (Adras-J) is to find and examine the remains of a Japanese H-IIA rocket floating in space for 15 years, explained the private Japanese company Astroscale .