Launch of a Wooden Satellite Still Pending

Launch of a Wooden Satellite Still Pending

Two spacecraft comprised of wood or using wooden framing are hoping to launch this year and next. One will carry an amateur radio payload.

WISA Woodsat, a Finnish spacecraft that planned to include an amateur radio payload, was forced to postpone its announced launch target from 2021 to 2022 after the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) Amateur Satellite Frequency Coordination system turned away its request to use amateur radio frequencies.

“I regret to inform you that IARU is not in a position to support the WISA Woodsat Coordination request,” the coordinator said. “The main reason is that the primary mission doesn’t seem to be an amateur mission.”

As announced last year, WISA Woodsat was designed to accommodate multiple missions — from materials science, space education, and awareness to promoting and facilitating amateur radio communication with and via satellites. No transponder was on board, but the satellite’s
sponsors said they had the support of Finland’s IARU member-society, SRAL, to use amateur radio frequencies. They are now reworking the spacecraft to use commercial radio frequencies.

“To our great disappointment, we can’t serve the radio amateur community with the LoRa-repeater mission as we had hoped and planned. We will continue to share the pictures and data online, but the technical aspect has been diminished due to this decision,” said WISA Woodsat’s Chief Engineer Samuli Nyman of Arctic Astronautics.

Meanwhile, LignoSat, a 1U-sized CubeSat with an outside structure mainly composed of wood, has applied for IARU frequency coordination and hopes to launch from the ISS in 2023. Built by students at Japan’s Kyoto University, LignoSat includes a unique amateur radio payload but not a transponder.

The LignoSat application for IARU Satellite Frequency Coordination in December said the CubeSat would carry amateur radio equipment that will extract call signs of amateur radio stations from uplinked FM packet signals and respond to them via the CW downlink and the sender’s call signs to convey thank you messages. The plan proposes UHF downlinks for CW and FM.

The satellite’s development team, comprised of Kyoto University and Sumitomo Forestry Company, said it’s aiming to harness the environmental friendliness and the economy of wood in spacecraft development. They say a satellite with a wooden exterior would burn up upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at the end of its mission, lessening its burden on the environment. The wooden framework also will permit the satellite’s antennas to be inside the spacecraft. A plan is under way to use an experimental apparatus on the International Space Station to hold wooden sheets of varying hardness, taken from several tree species, attached. These would remain exposed to the space environment for about 9 months to determine their deterioration.

The team is headed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Tako Doi. Now a Kyoto University professor, Doi was the first JAXA astronaut to take part in spacewalks from the shuttle Columbia in 1997. He said the concept, if successful, could lead the way to “allowing even children who are interested in space to make a satellite.”

LignoSat would be deployed from the ISS in July 2023. — Thanks to Joey Ferguson, W4JF, and Japan Times.