Making satellites out of wood
用木头造卫星

用木头造卫星 Hardy, non-perennial-书迷号 shumihao.com

THE SPACE age was built on clever materials. The business ends of rocket engines are composed of Inconel, a family of heat-and-corrosion-resistant nickel-chromium alloys developed in the 1940s. The “gold foil” adorning many satellites is, in fact, a form of insulation made from layers of Kapton and metallised Mylar, a pair of artificial polymers from the 1950s and 1960s. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft use a heat shield made of phenolic-impregnated carbon to protect astronauts during atmospheric re-entry.
太空时代建基于精妙的材料之上。火箭发动机的关键部分由因科耐尔合金组成,这是上世纪40年代研制的一种耐高温、耐腐蚀的镍铬合金。装饰在许多卫星上的“金箔”实际上是一种多层绝缘体,由聚酰亚胺和金属化聚酯薄膜制成,这两种人造聚合物分别研发于上世纪50和60年代。SpaceX的龙飞船使用的防热罩由酚醛浸渍碳制成,在重返大气层时保护宇航员。

But it is not just humans in lab coats who can come up with whizzy substances. Sumitomo Forestry, a Japanese firm, and Kyoto University are pondering the idea of building satellites out of an advanced, high-performance composite made from cellulose and lignin, a pair of complex polymers which are strong in tension and compression respectively. This material is both cheap and abundant. It is self-assembling and requires only simple chemical inputs. Manufacture can be entirely automated, requiring no human oversight. Translated from chemist-speak, they want to make satellites out of wood.
但是,并不是只有套着实验室大褂的人才能捣鼓出尖端材料。日本住友林业株式会社(Sumitomo Forestry)和京都大学正在考虑使用一种先进的高性能复合材料来制造卫星。这种复合材料由纤维素和木质素制成,这两种复杂聚合物分别具有很强的抗拉和抗压性能。这种材料既便宜又供应充足。它可以自组装,并且只需简单的化学辅料。其生产可以完全自动化,不需要人类监督。把这些化学行话翻译过来就是,他们想用木头造卫星。

The research team argue that wood offers two advantages. Unlike metal, seasoned timber is easily penetrated by radio waves. That means communication antennas, sensors and the like could be kept inside the body of the satellite. This, they hope, will simplify construction. The second advantage is that, on atmospheric re-entry, the wooden parts of the satellite should burn up entirely, making disposal cleaner.
研究小组认为用木材有两大优势。和金属不同,经干燥处理的木材很容易被无线电波穿透。这意味可以把通信天线、传感器等装置放在木制卫星内部。他们希望由此简化卫星的构造。第二个优点是,在重返大气层时,卫星的木制部分应该能完全燃烧掉,让废弃卫星的处理更加环保。

The researchers hope to launch a prototype version of what they have dubbed a LignoSat by 2023. Space is both extremely cold and very hot, and can switch quickly between the two as a spacecraft moves from shade into direct sunlight. Processing wood to cope with such extremes will be crucial to success. Sumitomo has said merely that its way of doing this is an “R&D secret”.
研究人员将这种卫星命名为LignoSat,希望在2023年发射一颗原型。太空既极寒又酷热,当宇宙飞船从背阴处运行到阳光直射处时,就是在这两种气温环境间急剧转换。把木材处理得能够经受这样的极端变化是成功的关键。住友林业只表示其解决方案是个“研发机密”。

Sending wood into space is not Sumitomo’s only ambition for the material. It hopes that lessons from the satellite project might assist its plan to build the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper, in Tokyo. This building, dubbed W350, would celebrate the firm’s 350th birthday in 2041, and would, therefore, be 350 metres tall—roughly as high as the Empire State Building without its spire.
把木头送进太空并不是住友林业对这种材料的唯一追求。它希望从这个卫星项目中获得经验,帮助自己在东京建造世界上最高的木制大厦。这座被称为W350的建筑计划在2041年落成,以庆祝这家公司350岁生日,它的高度也因此被定为350米——和帝国大厦去掉尖顶差不多高。