Scientists Want To Launch A Wooden Satellite Into Space, Will It Work?

A satellite made of wood will launch into space next year to be more sustainable, without leaving metal parts in Earth's atmosphere.

By Phillip Moyer | Published

If you were to create a list of materials you considered to be high-tech, chances are you wouldn’t choose wood. The material, which has been used to create tools for almost 100,000 years, generally doesn’t find its way into computers, electronics, or satellites. But according to, researchers at Kyoto University have determined that the physical properties and durability of magnolia wood make it ideal for use in LignoSat, a wooden satellite scheduled to be launched into space next year as part of a joint venture between NASA and the Japanese space agency JAXA.

The wooden satellite is part of the LignoStella Space Wood Project, which started back in 2020. The project aims to find a way to build small satellites using sustainable materials. 

There are other advantages of a wooden satellite as well — it will completely burn up upon re-entry without leaving behind alumina particles in the upper atmosphere. These particles are not only toxic but might contribute to the degradation of the ozone layer. With more and more satellites being launched into orbit every year, the buildup of alumina particles could eventually cause real harm to the earth below.

The scientists decided it was worthwhile to use magnolia in a wooden satellite after sending a panel with wood samples up to the International Space Station. The panel was subjected to exposure tests and analysis of each sample’s elemental and crystal structure for over 290 days on Kibo, the ISS’s Japanese Experiment Module. After spending ten months in orbit being hammered by the deadly cosmic rays outside Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic shield, the panel was studied to determine which samples warped and degraded the least. 

After retrieving it via a SpaceX resupply mission, scientists discovered that magnolia did not degrade at all outside the earth’s atmosphere, with no signs of decomposition, warping, or cracking. This makes it an ideal material for spending a long time out in the cosmic void.

After finding this suitable material for the wooden satellite, the next step will be to actually build it, then launch it into space. It turns out that building a wooden satellite comes with some advantages over the standard aluminum satellites: wood, unlike aluminum, doesn’t block cosmic rays, so any sensors or equipment they want to add to the satellite can be placed inside a simple structure.

the challenge

Before launching their first wooden satellite, the LignoStella Space Wood Project plans to further investigate the degradation of magnolia wood on a nano level. The hope, they say, is to see whether there are any further applications that material such as Magnolia can be used for. 

Their wooden satellite is scheduled to be launched in 2024.

Lignostella isn’t the only group looking into the plausibility of using wood as a satellite material. WISA WOODSAT, which is headed by the materials company WISA Plywood, has been developing microsats using their own brand of UPM Plywood. However, despite an initially-stated goal of launching a wooden satellite by the end of 2021, so far, no WISA WOODSATs have been launched into orbit.