World’s first wooden satellite set launched – Can plywood survive in space? – –

World’s first wooden satellite set launched – Can plywood survive in space? – –

The world’s first wooden satellite is on its way, in the form of the Finnish WISA Woodsat. ESA materials experts provide a suite of experimental sensors to the mission and participate in pre-flight testing. Credit: Arctic Astronautics

The world’s first wooden satellite is on its way, in the form of the Finnish WISA Woodsat. ESA materials experts provide a suite of experimental sensors to the mission and participate in pre-flight testing.

WISA Woodsat is a 10x10x10cm “CubeSat” – a type of nanosatellite built from standardized boxes – but with plywood surface panels. The only non-wood external parts of Woodsat are aluminum corner rails used for its deployment in space as well as a metal selfie stick.

The mission was initiated by Jari Makinen, Finnish writer and animator. He co-founded a company called Arctic Astronautics, which markets fully functional orbit-ready CubeSats replicas for education, training and recreation. “I have always liked making model airplanes, involving a lot of wooden parts. Having worked in the field of space education, this made me wonder; why don’t we fly wooden materials into space?

WISA Woodsat. Crédit : Arctic Astronautics

“So I first had the idea of ​​flying a wooden satellite up to the stratosphere, on board a weather balloon. It happened in 2017, with a wooden version of KitSat. Having gone well, we decided to upgrade it and put it into orbit. From there, the project snowballed: we found commercial support and secured a spot on an Electron launcher from Rocket Lab in New Zealand. “

ESA sensors to sniff the interior of Woodsat

Riccardo Rampini, Head of the Materials Physics and Chemistry Section of ESA, comments: “The schedule has been tight, but we appreciated the opportunity to contribute to Woodsat’s payload in exchange for help with assess its flight ability.

“The first element that we take on board is a pressure sensor, which will allow us to identify the local pressure in the on-board cavities within hours and days of being put into orbit. This is an important factor in powering up high power systems and radio frequency antennas, as small amounts of molecules in the cavity can potentially cause damage to them.

Revealing the WISA Woodsat design. Credit: Arctic Astronautics

“This sensor is built for us by Sens4 in Denmark, who have done an excellent job of lightening their standard design to accommodate limited on-board volume and power constraints. “

Bruno Bras, ESA Materials Engineer, adds: “The good thing here is that we ended up designing a low cost device that could find all kinds of additional uses, both in orbit and in the air. soil in test environments. “

Next to it will be a simple LED with a photoresistor that detects when it turns on. But the power of the LED will come from an electrically conductive 3D printed plastic called “polyetheretherketone,” or PEEK for short, opening up the prospect of print power or even data links directly into the bodies of future space missions. .


Technical heart of ESA: ESTEC, the European Center for Space Research and Technology, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Credit: ESA-G. Carry

ESA Materials Engineer Orcun Ergincan comments: “The other element is a quartz crystal microbalance, serving as a very sensitive contamination monitoring tool, measuring any weak deposits of the nanogram order. from the on-board electronics as well as the wooden surfaces themselves. This was contributed by OpenQCM in Italy. This company is also building the global stack of printed circuit boards housing the three demonstrators with integrated sensors. “

Plywood for Woodsat

Woodsat’s sponsors include UPM Plywood of Finland, one of the world’s largest plywood manufacturers.

“The base material for plywood is birch, and we use essentially the same one you find in a hardware store or to make furniture,” says Samuli Nyman, chief engineer of Woodsat and co-founder of Arctic Astronautics.

ESA Laboratory of Electrical Materials and Components

Composed of more than 20 dedicated experimental facilities and hundreds of instruments in total, the ESA Electrical Materials and Components laboratory guarantees an optimal choice of electrical components, materials and processes for ESA missions and projects. external, given the unique environmental challenges involved in building for the space, further investigate the failures to ensure that similar issues do not occur on future missions. Credit: ESA

“The main difference is that regular plywood is too wet to be used in space, so we put our wood in a thermal vacuum chamber to dry it. Then we also do atomic layer deposition, adding a very thin layer of aluminum oxide – typically used to encapsulate electronics. This should minimize unwanted vapors from wood, known as “outgassing” in space, while protecting against the erosive effects of atomic oxygen. We will also be testing other varnishes and lacquers on certain parts of the wood.

This highly reactive oxygen variant is found at the far reaches of the atmosphere – the result of the separation of standard oxygen molecules by the Sun’s powerful ultraviolet radiation – and was first discovered when it chomped on the blankets. thermal during the first flights of the space shuttle.

ESA Woodsat PCB

On Woodsat, ESA materials engineers embed a pressure sensor, an electrically conductive plastic test, and a quartz crystal microbalance, all housed on the same printed circuit board, plus a shape memory alloy test. . Credit: ESA

Pre-flight tests suggest that the satellite, which will orbit about 500-600 km above sea level in a near-polar sun-synchronous orbit, should survive its exposure to atomic oxygen. But the wood should be darkened by the ultraviolet radiation from unfiltered sunlight.

Selfie stick on board

“We have a pair of on-board cameras, including one extended on a selfie stick to look at the plywood and take pictures to see how it behaves,” Jari adds. “We want to see color changes, cracks, etc. “

The design and manufacture of the camera boom turned out to be an interesting exercise: the structure should be small as it can be inside the tiny satellite for launch, and then extend as far into it as possible. ‘space.

Atomic oxygen generator

ESA’s new LEOX, Low Earth Orbit Facility, was first fired in April 2017. This new simulator which fires a laser to generate atomic oxygen normally only encountered in low orbits and known to eat away at the surfaces of the satellites. LEOX generates atomic oxygen at energy levels equivalent to orbital speed – 7.8 km / s – to closely simulate the space environment. It can also perform tests at a higher throughput, which saves time and money for testing. Purified molecular oxygen is injected into a vacuum chamber on which a pulsed laser beam is focused. With a purple flash with each laser shot, the oxygen is converted into a hot plasma whose rapid expansion is channeled along a conical nozzle. It then dissociates to form a highly energetic beam of atomic oxygen. The new facility is housed in the Electrical Materials and Components Laboratory, one of the laboratories at ESA’s Technical Center in the Netherlands, dedicated to simulating all aspects of the space environment. Credit: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

“The design was done by Finnish engineering company Huld, pushing 3D printing to its limits,” Jari adds. “For Huld, the Woodsat project has already proven to be an important point of reference for entering into other space mechanics projects as well. ”

In addition to the cameras and sensor suite donated by ESA, Woodsat will also carry an amateur radio payload allowing hobbyists to relay radio signals and images around the world. The data downlink of this ‘LoRa’ radio link involves the purchase of a ‘ground station’ for as little as € 10.

“In the end, Woodsat is just a beautiful object in terms of traditional Nordic design and simplicity, it should be very interesting to see it in orbit,” Jari continues. “Our hope is that this helps inspire people to take more and more interest in satellites and the space sector as something that touches our entire lives already and will only gain momentum in the future.” . ”

Woodsat is expected to launch before the end of this year.


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