Paper plane launched from space

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Japanese scientists and origami masters considered in 2008 launching a flotilla of paper planes from space.[1] The launch was tentatively slated for 2009[2] from the International Space Station[3] 250 miles above Earth. However, the planes' developers, Takuo Toda (see paper plane world records) and fellow enthusiast Shinji Suzuki, an aeronautical engineer and professor at Tokyo University, postponed the attempt after acknowledging it would be all but impossible to track the planes during their week-long journey to Earth, assuming any of them survived the searing descent. The developers continue, in 2009, with hopes that China or Russia will back further efforts on the project.[4]

Some 30[3] to 100[4] planes had been considered to make the descent, each gliding downward over what was expected to be the course of a week to several months. If one of the planes survived to Earth, it would have made the longest flight ever by a paper plane, traversing the 250 mi./400 km. vertical descent. In a test in Japan in February 2008, a prototype about 2.8 inches long and 2 inches wide survived Mach 7 speeds and temperatures reported to be 200°C in a hypersonic wind tunnel for 10 seconds. Materials designed for use in conventional reentry vehicles, including ceramic composites, withstand temperatures on the order of 2200°C.[5] The 30 cm planes were to have been made from heat-resistant paper treated with silicon.[4]

As the Japanese/JAXA project was outlined, scientists would have had no way to track the airplanes or to predict where they might land; and as 70% of the Earth's surface is covered in water, the craft would have anticipated a wet reunion with the planet. Each plane, however, would have borne a request in several languages asking its finder to contact the Japanese team. Should one of the airplanes thus have made its way home, its journey would have helped to demonstrate the feasibility of slow-speed, low-friction atmospheric reentry. Critics have suggested that even a successful demonstration would lack probative impact beyond the realm of diminutive sheets of folded paper—they can only fall.[6] Supporters countered that the broadening of knowledge was justification enough.

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  1. ^ McNeill, D. (2008) Cosmic Aerogami, Chronicle of Higher Education 55(16), pp A5.
  2. ^ Per contact with JAXA Public Relations Office- Email (22 July 2009):; Mission date still undetermined as of the end of STS-127.
  3. ^ a b Dan Barry. "The Ultimate Paper Airplane | Space Exploration | Air & Space Magazine". Retrieved 2009-08-13.
  4. ^ a b c "Paper plane enthusiast sets flight record" by Justin McCurry in Tokyo,, 27 December 2009 16.03 GMT. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
  5. ^ "Lightweight Ultrahigh Temperature CMC-Encased C/C Structure for Reentry and Hypersonic Applications, Phase II". Retrieved 2009-08-13.
  6. ^ Yamaguchi, Mari (2008-03-27). "Can an origami shuttle fly from space to Earth?". Retrieved 2009-08-13.

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