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A Model for Future Spacecraft

Did you know there's a plan to launch origami planes to Earth from the International Space Station?

Origami planes will provide clues for designing new spacecraft.

The planes will enter the atmosphere traveling at about 2 kilometers per second.

The origami planes will circle around the Earth as they descend.

There is a small amount of air in space that will present some resistance, slowing the planes' descent. It is expected that they will reach Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of 100 km in about three days.

  • The experiment may start as early as January 2009.
  • A plane will be difficult to find if it lands somewhere like the ocean, so several planes are scheduled to be launched.

Previous Experiments

Mach 7 atmospheric entry simulation


An experiment carried out at the University of Tokyo in January 2008 proved that the planes are capable of withstanding air current speeds of Mach 7.

Assuming the paper planes return safely from space, future spacecraft may have the following characteristics:

  1. Like paper planes, their bodies will be very light relative to their body size.
    When spacecraft enter thicker layers of the Earth's atmosphere, it generates heat by friction to make them very hot. But because lighter aircraft will slow at higher altitudes where the air is thin, the risk of the craft being burned is to be reduced.
  2. They may be able to fold up like origami planes.
    New spacecraft might be designed to fold up for easy lift-off into space and opening up for the descent to the Earth.


This experiment will lead to the development of spacecraft with new shapes made from new materials.

This project is being conducted with the cooperation of organizations like the Japan Origami Airplane Association, the University of Tokyo, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

(Updated in August 2008)