Toothpicks Tables Drawers. Satellite Spoons? An ambitious project will send a small wooden satellite into orbit later this year to see if it can withstand the brutal conditions in space. It has already survived a test in the stratosphere.
The WISA Woodsat is a 4-inch (10-centimeter) square satellite that is scheduled to launch in the fall 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 frame withstands the cold, heat, radiation, and vacuum of space.
Woodsat is the brainchild of Jari Makinen, co-founder of replica kits company CubeSat. 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 tests.
The only non-wood parts of the plywood satellite on the outside are the aluminum rails needed to launch the satellite into space and an extendable selfie stick that will hold a camera pointed towards the body. A more typical CubeSat would be made with more metal components.
“The base material for plywood is birch, and we are using basically the same material that you would 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 and treated to give you a better chance of coping with the space conditions. The Woodsat team hopes the exterior will darken, but will also look to see if cracks develop while in orbit.
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A Woodsat test model flew into the stratosphere in a weather balloon on June 12. “The main objective of this short flight was to use the satellite’s camera systems and equipment in space conditions.” Arctic Astronautics said in a statement. The flight lasted just under three hours. The plywood came out fine and the camera worked as expected.
If Woodsat works well, it could prompt a new look at wood as a possible material for use in space. “In the end,” Makinen said, “Woodsat is just a beautiful object in terms of simplicity and traditional Nordic design, it should be very interesting to see it in orbit.”
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