Researchers Plan to Launch Paper Airplane from ISS

Article written: 23 Jan , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015

This is from the “why is anyone spending money on this?” department. Researchers from the University of Tokyo have teamed up with members of the Japan Origami Airplane Association to develop a paper aircraft capable of surviving the flight from the International Space Station to the Earth’s surface. The only problem is that no one knows where the paper airplane might land, and no tracking device is in the works to be used. So, the plan is to do an experiment with no way of gathering any data.

The researchers began testing the strength and heat resistance of an 8 centimeter (3.1 in) long prototype on January 17 in an ultra-high-speed wind tunnel at the University of Tokyo. In the tests, the origami glider — which is shaped like the Space Shuttle and has been treated to withstand intense heat — will be subjected to wind speeds of Mach 7, or about 8,600 kilometers (5,300 miles) per hour.

The researchers claim this paper airplane will come down more slowly than say, a real spacecraft, and it is not expected to burn up on re-entry.

No launch date has been set for the paper spaceplane, but Shinji Suzuki, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Tokyo, is thinking ahead. “We hope the space station crew will write a message of peace on the plane before they launch it,” says Suzuki. “We don’t know where in the world the plane will land, but it would be nice to send a message to whoever finds it.”

Even if the paper airplane does make it through the atmosphere unscathed, given that our planet is 70% water, don’t hold out much hope for it being found.

Original News Source: Pink Tentacle

17 Responses

  1. This is a fantastic and interesting idea. I hope that it serves to inspire young people and the general public to look heavenward and think of the scientific possibilities in space. Does this mean that if they made a spacecraft with the lift to weight ratio of a paper airplane, they could eliminate thermal protection and reentry systems?

  2. Alex says

    Very interesting question… In order to get that, however, you would have a huge mass fraction in the airframe – and far less payload.

    Probably a better project would be to drop many gliders (1000 or so) from a high altitude balloon and see where it lands. Have the participating students chart out the landing sites and use those for some research. Maybe different designs could be tested to see which glides the farthest?

  3. Miguel V. says

    Yes! Launch hundreds or thousands. Go to a big company for the money to finance the project. Print its logo in the planes and film their lauch. Award the first who find one plane with $1M or so. Etc.

  4. mollycunneen says

    I know nothing about the dynamics of this, so don’t yell at me. could notes be put into a “bottle thing” would it fall to earth? Would they land at different places? Could the paper airplanes be big enough to be very noticeable if one was found with information to contact the delivering site where it was found? I think Miguel was being sarcastic, but it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to get funding.

  5. Chris says

    And one of these thousands of origami planes hangs out in orbit and gets stuck on the camera lens of a multi billion dollar spy satellite.


  6. Alex says

    Haha nice chris…

    How about depleated uranium slugs with notes inside them that we drop over cities around the world? That would be fun?

  7. Richie says

    Don’t suppose there is any chance of them being fined under the international litter law as defined in offences against the planet act, section 94281 sub section 37984B paragraph 591 etc, etc….

  8. Harry M says

    Embed an RFIC for tracking.

  9. Michael says

    Of course, the odds of any of these things (even the 10,000 idea) being found by a human being are so remote as to be nearly nil. That’s with the oceans, ice caps, jungles, mountains, etc., etc. Though we feel crowded here on the east coast of the U.S. the Earth is largely uninhabited, of course!

  10. N Stone says

    even if someone on earth did find one of the paper airplanes, the chances of that person knowing of this project is very slim

  11. Tech Roach says

    Whats the point ? I mean, no tracking, nothing special and nothing. So, whats this all about ? Scientist gone whacky ?!

  12. Chuck Lam says

    This looks like an exercise in stupidity.

  13. Peter Giancana says

    Having been thought of, it needs to be done.

  14. Tristan MacAvery says

    It’s not an “exercise in stupidity”; it’s an exercise in whimsy. Who among us hasn’t stood upon some high promentory and wanted to toss a pebble, a pine cone, a paper ariplane? And what higher promentory than something in orbit about the Earth? Not everything in science has to be absolutely practical. The “what if” has led to more discovery than the “what a stupid idea”. (I’m waiting for some person on EVA to see if s/he can skip a flat object off the atmosphere as one skips flat stones over the surface of a lake!)

  15. Jason Leary says

    It’s a fascinating project and worthwhile .

    If it had a message of peace written in Hebrew and Arabic and landed in Israel or Palestinian territories might it lead to a sense of awe amongst people in those violence torn areas .

    If it landed in Australia amonst the aborginals of the wild outback deserts might it be a new catalyst for a new form of Dreamtime ?

    If it landed in the town in Japan from which the project originated that would be rather Borgesian !

  16. Bertie says

    Here’s something interresting for you guys to think about. A paper plane doesn’t work on the same principles that a real plane does. Lift, in the most common sense doesn’t play as big a role. I read this in a book by Eric Kenneway on origami called: The A-Z of Origami.

  17. Paul says

    Great!! Just Great!! More space junk!
    A paint flake the size of a regular stamp would be like getting hit by a 16 pound ten pin bowling ball.

    Imagine what this thing would do to the ISS, Astronaut or Satellite.

    Take what’s up there already, place it all in the same orbit from the smallest piece of sand to the largest pieces of space junk. And we would have a ring around the Earth twice that of Saturn!

    Dangerous enough up there I would say. I can see the headlines now…”Astronaut Killed by Paper Airplane!” what a way to go!

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