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Wooden Satellite Goes to Space

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    The outside of the WISA WOODSAT nanosatellite is mostly made of wood. (Handout)
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    The satellite will ride into space from New Zealand on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket like this one. (Simon Moffatt/Rocket Lab via AP)
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    The satellite has a camera on a “selfie stick” so it can take pictures of itself in space. (Handout)
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    A company called UPM Plywood made the plywood for the satellite. (Arctic Astronautics)
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What wood you use to make a satellite? A Finnish company used just that—Arctic Astronautics is planning to launch the world’s first wooden satellite into orbit. The company’s goal is to test the suitability of wood for use in extreme conditions.

The WISA WOODSAT nanosatellite is a small, cube-shaped satellite. It measures about four inches in each dimension. A rocket will launch from New Zealand later this year to carry the plywood box into space. UPM Plywood and Scandinavian design house Huld teamed up with tech firm Arctic Astronautics to build the satellite.

“We know that the plywood can survive in harsh environments very well,” says Sami Uuksulainen of UPM Plywood.

Uuksulainen says the company makes its plywood by putting thin layers of wood together crosswise and gluing them with a type of resin. That creates a lightweight but strong material.

In orbit, the satellite will be monitored by sensors and two cameras. One camera is on a deployable boom, like a selfie stick. The boom and antennae can tuck inside the box until the satellite is released in space.

“The reason for the selfie camera is simply because we want to have photos of the surface in space,” mission manager Jari Mäkinen says. That can answer questions such as “Will the color change? Will the layers of the box develop cracks?”

The mission will expose the plywood to extremes of heat, cold, vacuum, and radiation for an extended period of time. The makers can study how the wood product might perform in future space structures, like space stations or even spacecraft.

Another reason the satellite has to be tough? Scientists estimate that as much as 7,000 tons of junk orbit the Earth at speeds of up to 17,000 miles per hour. They include tiny items such as screws or chips of paint as well as large pieces, like rocket parts or old satellites. People are increasingly using satellites for communications links or to steer self-driving vehicles. Space junk can damage satellites or spacecraft in a collision. (See Space-Saving Fabric.) If WOODSAT holds together well, it could deflect other bits of junk upon impact.

When we look at space, it’s easy to see that God’s world is amazing. But even parts of God’s creation that seem ordinary to us are complex and useful. When humans add their God-given creativity, remarkable things can result. Would you have imagined wood in space?