The Japanese team on the International Space Station will launch a paper airplane (co-designed with the Japan Origami Airplane Association) into the Earth's atmosphere — the plane's been treated with heat-resisting stuff and is expected to survive reentry:
The researchers are scheduled to begin testing the strength and heat resistance of an 8 centimeter (3.1 in) long prototype on January 17 in an ultra-high-speed wind tunnel at the University of Tokyo's Okashiwa campus (Chiba prefecture). In the tests, the origami glider – which is shaped like the Space Shuttle and has been treated to withstand intense heat – will be subjected to wind speeds of Mach 7, or about 8,600 kilometers (5,300 miles) per hour.
A large spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle can reach speeds of up to Mach 20 (over 15,200 mph) when it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, and friction with the air heats the outer surface to extreme temperatures. The much lighter origami aircraft, which the researchers claim will come down more slowly, is not expected to burn up on re-entry.
(Image: A good loft, a Creative Commons Attribution Licensed photo from Old Sarge's Flickr stream)