Date: April 7, 2010

Title: Launch a Wooden Satellite?


Podcaster: Alex “Sandy” Antunes

Organization: Interorbital Systems
The Daytime Astronomer
Project Calliope

Description: Could you successfully launch a high precision functioning space satellite that was made out of wood? After speculating, Sandy calls up Randa Milliron, the CEO of,( ) and finds she’s not scared away by the idea. Steampunk meets Spacepunk as we look at handcrafting satellites.

Bio: Sandy is an astrophysicist and science writer. He’s also launching a personal satellite to mix music and science, at, as proof that we’re in a new era of space exploration. He writes twice a week at

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by no one. Please consider sponsoring a podcast for $30. Click on the “donate” button on the sidebar for more information.


[Sandy] So I’m working on some decking right now, I’ve got 5 pieces of wood, and I’ve screwed a rough line on them with a screwdriver. And now I’m using a jigsaw to do the cutting by hand to get it about the right length. After that I’ll drill some approximate holes and we’re going to call that puppy done.
I really like working with wood, wood is very forgiving. Could you build a satellite out of wood?
Wood is awesome for some things. Our house has been around for several decades and we trust it with our lives, it’s survived hurricanes, storms, blizzards… it’s done that, however, with a few repairs.
We’ve had to replace the roof once, some things have broken, sometimes on their own, sometimes through the kids, but fortunately we can do these repairs.
Most satellites don’t have that option. Even the Hubble Space telescope, one of the Great Observatories, only got a couple of servicing missions, where folks got to go up to tweak some of the stuff they were doing.
So most satellites, you can’t just go up with a hand drill, start drilling holes and patching things up that need it, like I’m doing here outside.
The Project Calliope satellite that I’m launching, the music satellite that we’re putting up, it’s going to be up there for 3 months and I don’t get to go up there to fix it, might as I’d like to.
If it doesn’t survive, if something goes wrong, that’s how it goes, no repairs.
So, could you make a satellite out of wood?
The best thing to do with this is look at a different kind of wood building, not the “outdoor screwing in some deck plating so that people can walk on it”.
We’re going to take a look at boutique carpentering.
[cut to new location]
So let’s say we want to make a satellite out of wood, certainly housebuilding isn’t the area to look at, but perhaps we can look at some other woodcraft, in this case, instrument making.
Now, I like to make electric guitars and basses, these are made out of wood using hand tools, I construct them a little bit better than I play them, but it’s of great enjoyment to me and it has the kind of skills that are needed for satellite building.
Specifically, you have to have very high quality standards for what you’re making. In the end it has to have a very high degree of polish, not just in visual appearance but in terms of smoothness, ease of use, tactile nature, it has to be very easily held, it has to have very good balance…
And you actually want these things for a satellite. Yes, satellites have lumpy bits sticking out of them, but they have to be functional lumpy bits. An antenna sticking out of a satellite is no different than the tuning knobs sticking out of the headstock of the guitar.
We’re used to them on a guitar, we’re used to them on a satellite, they’re functional, and yet they have a certain elegance to it. And I think that instrument building and satellite building have a lot of things in common.
The other thing is, instruments have to be made with high precision so that they can be put in tune and stay in tune. Satellites have to be of high precision because they also have to have their instruments in tune, have their instruments working, and they have to stay that way.
I talked about how you can’t go up and service most satellites. You know, you can’t really service a musical instrument when you’re in the middle of a performance. You can swap out another one, and as a matter of fact they do that with satellites. When a communications satellite goes down they just put another one in.
So I started thinking, could you make a satellite out of wood, using the same precision stuff that you come up with making musical instruments?
So I decided to talk to Randa, the CEO of Interorbital Systems, the people that are doing the fabulous TubeSat work that we’re launching Project Calliope on, to see if they would fly a satellite made out of wood, if I were able to manufacture it to the specifications, in terms of size, weight and functionality, that they require.
So we’re going to see what comes up with this interview.


[Randa] Hello?
[Sandy] Is Randa there?
[Randa] This is Randa!
[Sandy] This is Sandy Antunes
[Randa] Hi Sandy.
[Sandy] As I’d mentioned, this is for the Podcast for 365 days of astronomy (hold on, let me adjust his… okay!)
[Sandy] If I were able to make a satellite within the given weight and size specifications made of wood, would you be willing to launch it?
[Rand] If it fits the specifications, yes, there’s no problem. If the mass and that whole volume, and the deployment components, there’s no problem with that at all, it’d be very interesting actually.
[Sandy] I think so, a wood satellite with brass fittings, it’d be very Steampunk I think.
[Randa] Absolutely, I think that’d be a hot item, I’d be totally willing to do that.
[Sandy] If the music satellite works out as well as I hope, that might be the next project.
[Randa] So a Steampunk satellite, very good, that’d go very nicely with our whole Spacepunk attitude. But why not an armada? Think of it, think of a fleet of wooden satellites, that would be really quite interesting.
[cut to end credits]
[Sandy] You can find out more about Project Calliope, where we are sonifying the ionosphere and returning it direct to Earth as MIDI data, creating music from space, at This is Sandy Antunes, the Daytime Astronomer, signing off.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the Astrosphere New Media Association. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at Until tomorrow…goodbye.