Artist's impression of the LignoSat probe in space. Photograph: Kyoto University

This is not an early April Fool’s joke: Japan and NASA are preparing to launch the world’s first wooden satellite into space.

The tiny, environmentally-friendly spacecraft is dubbed the LignoSat probe and is built from magnolia wood, which is exceptionally resistant to cracking. The satellite will orbit this summer after being launched from a US rocket and is designed to withstand harmful aluminium particles.

LignoSat is the brainchild of researchers at Kyoto University and the logging company Sumitomo Forestry. The team has been investigating biodegradable alternatives to the metals traditionally used to build satellites, which produce harmful aluminium particles when reentering Earth’s orbit. Scientists fear they could cause major environmental issues in years to come as the number of satellite launches increases, depleting and damaging the ozone.

The team recreated the conditions and qualities of a space launch. It tested various types of wood in the lab before settling on magnolia and sending samples to the International Space Station (ISS). They underwent a year of exposure trials in space before being brought back to Earth.

According to the head of the project, Koji Murata, wood’s durability in space could be attributed to the fact there’s no oxygen to cause combustion, nor living creates to cause rot.

The probe – which is the size of a coffee mug – will launch on either an Orbital Sciences Cygnus supply ship this summer or a Space X Dragon mission later in the year. The eco spacecraft is expected to orbit in space for a year and will burn into ash when it reenters the atmosphere.

[Source: Guardian; CNN]

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