World’s First Wooden Satellite Takes Sustainable Space Exploration to Next Level

April 22 is Earth Day and, if you’re not ditching your ICE car for the day in favor of a bicycle or planting a tree (which, granted, not everyone can or will do), here’s another way you can do your small but important part. Help decide the color of the world’s first wooden satellite.
This is how the first wooden satellite in the world will look: meet WISA WOODSAT 3 photos
Photo: WISA Plywood
This is how the first wooden satellite in the world will look: meet WISA WOODSATThis is how the first wooden satellite in the world will look: meet WISA WOODSAT
It may sound like a joke, and the companies behind the initiative, UPM Plywood, Arctic Astronautics, and Huld, are more than aware of it. But it is an actual project that will see the construction of what is, without a doubt, the first wooden satellite in the world. The plan is to launch it into Earth’s orbit by the end of the year, with development already underway.

As for how you can contribute to the project, you can help the makers decide the satellite's color. It doesn’t seem like much, and it’s definitely not a great effort on your part, but it is a way to contribute.

Announced earlier this month, the wooden satellite goes by the WISA WOODSAT official moniker. It is basically a smart wooden box with a selfie stick and a very noble purpose: to take space exploration to the next level, beyond fossil fuels. Think of it as the smallest space box with the biggest aspirations. In other words, the goal is to gather data on what happens with plywood in space and whether it could be used as a viable, greener alternative to currently used materials.

Technically classified as a nanosatellite, WISA WOODSAT measures 10x10x10 cm (3.9x3.9x3.9 inches) and weighs only 1 kg (2.2 pounds). It’s fitted with a suite of sensors, nine small solar cells, and two cameras, one of which is at the end of what looks like a selfie stick—technically, a “deployable boom for exterior imaging.” The European Space Agency will also contribute to the project with a novel sensor suite.

This is how the first wooden satellite in the world will look\: meet WISA WOODSAT
Photo: WISA Plywood
It’s ok to smile at the idea of sending a small plywood box into space in the name of science. After all, stranger things have been sent into orbit and then parachuted back to Earth, and it was always in the name of good fun and plenty of clout. But this is science with a capital S since this box that will “go where no other wood has gone before” (their words, not ours) will serve to study what happens to plywood in extreme conditions of low temperatures, vacuum, and radiation. The data will then serve to analyze the possibility of using greener materials in space exploration.

“The Wooden satellite with a selfie stick will surely bring goodwill and raise smiles, but essentially this is a serious science and technology endeavor,” WISA WOODSAT mission manager Jari Mäkinen from Arctic Astronautics, says in a statement. “In addition to testing plywood, the satellite will demonstrate accessible radio amateur satellite communication, host several secondary technology experiments, validate the Kitsat platform in orbit, and popularize space technology to the public.”

You have to start somewhere with making space exploration more sustainable, and a plywood satellite seems like the right place.

“UPM’s mission as a company is to create a future beyond fossils,” Ari Voutilainen, the space project manager for UPM Plywood, explains. “WISA WOODSAT is made of plywood and it carries a profound message of replacing fossils with renewable wood-based materials also in very demanding applications. Houston, we have a solution.”

The solution is not here yet, but it’s a good step in the right direction. WISA WOODSAT is being built as we speak and will have to undergo proper testing before being cleared off for takeoff. That is why a launch date hasn’t been announced yet—but everything else was.

The world’s first wooden satellite will be launched by Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle from the Mahila Peninsula launch complex in New Zealand. It will orbit our planet at 500-550 km (310-342 miles), collecting data on what could possibly be the future of sustainable space exploration.

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About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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