Arctic Astronautics will launch the first wooden nanosatellite by the end of 2021. Its plywood panels have been covered with an aluminum oxide sheet to protect it from erosion caused by atomic oxygen.
Satellites have evolved at breakneck speed in recent years, and 2021 will be no exception. By the end of the year, the first wooden satellite should be put into orbit, said a June 10 statement from the European space agency ESA. The WISA Woodsat is a nanosatellite created by Arctic Astronautics that measures 10x10x10 cm and weighs no more than one kilogram. Its particularity is to be built with plywood panels.
The type of plywood used here is made with birch wood, and looks a lot like that used to build furniture. ” The main difference is that the plywood is too wet for space use. We therefore placed the wood in a thermal vacuum chamber in order to dry it. Explains Woodsat chief engineer Samuli Nymanm.
Protect the satellite from atomic oxygen
The team also added a very thin layer of aluminum oxide to the panels – a process regularly used to protect electronic components. ” This should reduce the emission of vapors from the wood and protect it from erosion caused by atomic oxygen. (editor’s note: a component of the Earth’s upper atmosphere). Arctic Astronautics also plans to test different types of varnishes and lacquers on the plywood panels of its satellite.
The satellite will be placed in an orbit located at an altitude of approximately 500-600 km. It will carry various ESA sensors and two cameras used to monitor the evolution of wood in space. The energy required to run all of this will be provided by nine solar cells.
Tests conducted by Arctic Astronautics suggest that plywood sheets should withstand exposure to atomic oxygen well, although they will likely darken under the action of ultraviolet rays emitted by the Sun.
The satellite will have a camera placed on a selfie stick
« The appearance of this wooden satellite may be entertaining but it is a very serious science and technology project. “, Notes with humor Arctic Astronautics, in its press release. As ESA points out, many checks will be carried out on board. A pressure sensor will make it possible to assess the pressure in the satellite’s cavities in the hours and days following the launching into orbit. ” It is an important factor to control in the ignition of high power systems and radio antennas. Small amounts of molecules in the cavities can be enough to damage them. »
The satellite will also carry an LED powered by a 3D printed conductive plastic called “polyether ether ketone” or “PEEK”. An experience that will open up “ perspectives in power system printing or even data transfer », Underlines the ESA.
Orcun Ergincan, materials engineer at the European Space Agency, specifies that a quartz microbalance will also be on board the plywood satellite: “ It is an extremely sensitive detection tool for possible contaminations. »
The WISA Woodsat finally has two cameras so one that will be placed on a selfie stick (yes, yes). This arrangement makes it possible to follow the evolution of the plywood panels, explains Jari Mäkinen, the mission manager at Artics Astronautics: “ We want to spot the slightest change in color, the slightest crack. »
Reduce the risks posed by space waste
The satellite will also carry an amateur radio system capable of relaying radio signals and images around the world. The aim is to demonstrate that it is possible to set up inexpensive amateur radio systems in this way. To download data from this radio system, a ground station of 10 euros is sufficient.
Arctics Astronautics is not the only company interested in wooden satellites. The Japanese Sumimoto Forestry is also interested. This company believes that wooden satellites could solve some of the problems posed by space waste, because ” they would burn as they fell to Earth. It remains to be seen from now on whether the Woodsat will withstand the erosion phenomena linked to atomic oxygen as expected. It will be launched in November 2021.
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