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Wooden test item in summer 2017
The WISA Woodsat project is a fusion of two ideas: Kitsat, the educational satellite, and the use of wood in space. The roots of the Kitsat is in Aalto University student projects, but WISA Woodsat is not a student project.

Kitsat was born in 2016 as an outreach project from the Suomi 100 satellite. In 2017, Finland celebrated its 100th anniversary as an independent nation, and the satellite team of the Aalto University wanted to celebrate this by naming a satellite after this anniversary.

One of the several outreach activities was a "Space Truck", a mobile science center, which made a month-long tour around Finland from the capital to Lapland and back. A small clean room was built inside the truck and the public made a real satellite during the tour. Step by step in each visited city, the satellite was getting more and more complete, finally the last screws were added at the last stop. After the tour, this real-like satellite made a short flight to the stratosphere with a meteorological balloon.

Satellite building in Space Truck

The satellite-building turned out to be the most exciting activity during the tour, and from there the idea was developed further to a satellite mock-up that could be dismantled and rebuilt easily.

Our company Arctic Astronautics Ltd. was founded for designing, manufacturing and sales of the satellite kit. We were accepted to the ESA Business Incubation Center in 2019 from which we graduated in last summer.

Kitsat is principally similar to a real functioning satellite, but made from inexpensive parts and tailored for classroom and workshop conditions.  The Kitsat pack includes a 1U CubeSat, a small handheld ground station device and control software – all mimicking real satellite operation equipment.

After three iterations and test runs done with the Heureka Science Centre, the current version of Kitsat was finished in 2019 and the commercialisation was planned for 2020. This was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the development of the satellite products and the low scale sales still continued.

Wood was prototyped as the structure of Kitsat because of several reasons. It is a "friendly" material that could give a soft edge to the typically "hard" materials used in space technology. It is also a relatively inexpensive material that can be easily worked with. As all aspects of Kitsat have been thought of for education, the wooden material could have been used for discussing different materials that are used in space. Previously, wood has only been used for tests of the thermal protection layers.

Wooden Kitsat presented at the Suomi Areena in Pori, July 2017.
Wooden Kitsat presented at the Suomi Areena in Pori, July 2017.

The project manager and initiator of the Kitsat project (and WISA Woodsat project) Jari Mäkinen has been in cooperation with the Education office of the European Space Agency for years, and he got the original idea of combining wood and space technology during the Space Materials Kit production in 2015. Mäkinen's experience as a model airplane maker and aviation history enthusiast may have also affected this idea.

The idea of a wooden satellite was later imported to Kitsat and the first Kitsat model in 2017 – as a Suomi 100 "Space Truck Satellite" – used birch plywood structure. This wooden model was sent to a stratospheric flight and it supported very well the space-like conditions and flight stress.

The production version of Kitsat had a traditional structure, because it was designed to closely resemble existing satellites. The wood was not forgotten, however, but was simply put aside as a project.

In December 2020, the news told about a Japanese wooden satellite project. This gave the Kitsat team a push to think about an own wooden satellite as well: Kitsat could easily and quickly be upgraded to a flight-worthy satellite and a wooden structure was already prototyped.

After studying the feasibility of the wooden satellite the funding was secured, the project was initiated in February of 2021 and a launch was booked. The project is publicly announced today, the satellite will be presented to public when the corona situation allows (hopefully in May) and the launch to space is foreseen for late 2021.