Boffins to cut down on space junk by launching satellites made of wood

Boffins plan to cut space junk by launching satellites made of wood.

Samples tested at the International Space Station survived the extreme conditions without damage.

Despite temperature changes and exposure to intense cosmic rays and dangerous solar particles for 10 months the wood did not crack, warp, peel or suffer surface damage, scientists found.

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The LignoSat satellite – scheduled for launch next year (2024) by NASA and Japan's Jaxa space agency – is likely to be made of magnolia wood.

Researchers said magnolia has relatively high workability, dimensional stability and overall strength making its properties ideal for the mission.

Koji Murata, head of the research team, said: "Wood’s ability to withstand simulated low earth orbit conditions astounded us.'"

Compared to complex alloys used in space vehicles wood is environmentally friendly, easier to produce and can be disposed off better at the end of a satellite’s life.

Wooden satellites can be designed to completely burn up on re-entry into the atmosphere.

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Even if small fragments survived they would easily decompose.

Boffins are desperate to reduce the amount of junk in orbit.

A WALL-E-style minefield of `one hundred trillion' lumps of space junk has started to rain down on Earth in flames, according to Brit expert Dr Imogen Napper.

She said the space between Earth and the Moon was stuffed with so many satellites they were starting to crash into each other.

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That is before the number in orbit shoots up from its current 9,000 to 60,000 by 2030.

Flaming rubbish discarded by the International Space Station has been spotted burning in the sky over California, US.

Dr Napper, a research fellow at the University of Plymouth, said unless a legally-binding international treaty was introduced to clean up space junk astronauts would face hazardous trips into orbit – mirroring scenes from animated 2008 Disney movie WALL-E.

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"Satellites can collide potentially creating thousands of small debris objects,'" she said.

"It's like a chain reaction. More pieces of debris mean more potential collisions.

"It now thought there are 100 trillion pieces in Earth's orbit.

"There are fears that the debris could make large parts of Earth's orbit unusable."

Though she said `efforts have been made to clear it up' – including using a `giant litter picker' – the problem requires `international collaboration'.

"Scientists like me are calling for a legally-binding treaty to help protect the Earth's orbit,"' she said.

"We need to not make the same mistakes we have with the oceans.

"We do need to act.'"

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