Japan hoping that the wooden satellites will solve the problem of space junk

Japanese researchers are working on satellite technology that would use wooden components to remove excess space debris, allowing objects to burn as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, according to a new report.

Sumitomo Forestry, a 400-year-old Japanese woodworking company, is working with Kyoto University to develop the technology, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

NASA estimated more than a decade ago that 95% of man-made objects in orbit were unwanted space. These come from dead satellites, dropped missile stages and other dropped mission materials.

Most are relatively small, according to the European Space Agency. Of the 128 million pieces of debris in orbit, only about 34,000 objects are larger than 10 cm. But when larger objects collide, they produce many, many smaller ones. And they can travel more than 20,000 mph, making even tiny particles dangerous.

There are also about 2,800 satellites operating in orbit, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which maintains a satellite database. Governments and space companies have plans to launch thousands more in the future.

Experts are concerned that too much junk in orbit could complicate future launches, possibly narrowing the flight path window. Larger objects falling from orbit are also life-threatening

Space debris threatens satellites and could be potentially lethal to astronauts. Some launches from countries less concerned with security protocols can send huge chunks of material back to Earth.

In May, a Chinese missile core rained to pieces over West Africa. If he had re-entered a few minutes earlier, he could have crashed into New York.

The wooden satellites would fall apart completely, rather than hitting back to the surface or leaving small metal particles that could pierce space suits, solar panels or shuttles in the future.

“We are very concerned that all satellites re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere are burning and creating small particles of alumina that will float in the upper atmosphere for many years,” Japanese university and Japanese astronaut Takao Doi told the BBC. “It will eventually affect the Earth’s environment.”

In October, two pieces of garbage nearly collided 615 miles above Earth. One was an inoperable Russian satellite launched in 1989, and the other a Chinese missile stage from 2009.

The objects passed at a distance of about 30 meters from each other in an almost missed situation, but a collapse could have broken them into thousands of pieces, which could have caused risks for several collisions with other objects.