A satellite made out of wood

The BBC reports that a firm and a university in Japan are designing a satellite made out of wood.

Apart from the bespoke, hipster qualities of such a noble material, what's the point? One benefit: When the satellite is decommissioned and burns up on re-entry, it could theoretically release less toxic crap into the atmosphere …

Space junk is becoming an increasing problem as more satellites are launched into the atmosphere.

Wooden satellites would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground when they plunge back to Earth.

"We are very concerned with the fact that all the satellites which re-enter the Earth's atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles which will float in the upper atmosphere for many years," Takao Doi, a professor at Kyoto University and Japanese astronaut, told the BBC.

"Eventually it will affect the environment of the Earth."

It's certainly true that the space-junk problem is exploding; I recently reported a big piece on the privatization of outer space for The New Republic, and I got an earful from scientists worried about SpaceX's plans to send up tens of thousands of new satellites in the years to come.

Popular Mechanics wrote a short history of the use of wood in spacecraft (there's been several experiments, including as heat shields), and pointed out another benefit:

There may be some benefits to encasing a payload in a wooden shell. Nikkei Asia also notes that, unlike metal, wood won't block the electromagnetic waves that satellites use to communicate. If so, the scientists may be able to stash the antenna and other pieces of instrumentation inside the exterior wooden structure.

(That CC-2.0-licensed photo of wood above — unrelated to the building of satellites! It's just … wood! — is courtesy the Flickr stream of Yuya Tamai)