A Pan Nordic effort has resulted in the world’s first 3D printed wooden satellite, WISA Woodsat.
The brainchild of Jari Makinen, a writer, broadcaster and co-founder of Finnish company Arctic Astronautics, WISA Woodsat is a 10x10x10 cm ‘CubeSat’ – a type of nanosatellite built up from standardised boxes – but with surface panels made from plywood.
The device’s only non-wooden external parts are corner aluminium rails used for its deployment into space plus a metal selfie stick.
The wooden satellite has already secured a berth on an Electron launcher from Rocket Lab in New Zealand.
Finland’s Huld was responsible for 3D printing this novel satellite using thermally-treated birch plywood.
According to ESA’s Materials’ Physics and Chemistry section head, Riccardo Rampini, one of the first items embarking on the Woodsat is a pressure sensor being built by Denmark’s Sens4.
It will allow the ESA team to identify the local pressure in onboard cavities in the hours and days after launch into orbit.
This is an important factor for the turn-on of high power systems and radio-frequency antennas, because small amounts of molecules in the cavity can potentially cause them harm.
Next to it will be a straightforward LED with a photoresistor that senses as it lights up.
The LED’s power will come through a 3D printed electrically-conductive plastic called Polyether Ether Ketone (PEEK), opening up the prospect of printing power or even data links directly within the bodies of future space missions.
The other item is a quartz crystal microbalance, serving as a highly sensitive contamination monitoring tool, measuring any faint deposits in the nanogram range coming from onboard electronics as well as the wooden surfaces themselves, says ESA materials engineer Orcun Ergincan.
This has been contributed by Italy’s OpenQCM which is also building the overall printed circuit board stack hosting all three demonstrators with incorporated sensors.
Pre-flight testing by ESA suggests that the satellite orbiting at around 500-600 km altitude in a roughly polar Sun-synchronous orbit, should survive its atomic oxygen exposure.
The wood is nevertheless expected to darken on account of the ultraviolet radiation of unfiltered sunlight.
Image and content: WISA Woodsat/European Space Agency