back to article Japanese to launch paper plane from ISS

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have hooked up with the Japan Origami Airplane Association for what is quite possibly the most splendidly pointless space experiment of all time - the development of a paper plane capable of surviving re-entry into Earth's atmosphere after launch from the International Space Station. …


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  1. andy rock

    you gotta love...

    ... those crazy Japanese! utterly pointless but fun!

  2. Steve Roper


    I've wanted to know what would happen to a paper plane launched from orbit since I was a kid back in the 70s! I've always maintained that a paper plane would survive such a descent because it's surface area to mass ratio is too great for it to be able to sustain such high speeds. Since the atmosphere becomes progressively thinner with altitutude, the plane will have plenty of time to slow down long before it reaches the troposphere.

    Most likely, it will be YEARS before the plane reaches the ground, and unless it is waterproof it probably won't survive that long anyway. Given that 70% of the Earth's surface is ocean, and vast areas of land are still only sparsely populated, the odds of anyone finding it when it does land are extremely slim. What they should do is attach one of those tiny radio tags scientists use to track bird migrations to it. Then the experiment could also provide useful information about air movements in the Earth's upper atmosphere, as well as allowing everyone to see where, and if, it does come down.

  3. Matt Bradley
    IT Angle

    Message of peace

    Written on the inside of the paper plane:

    "I'll have 50% of what you get for this on ebay"

  4. Simon

    What's next?

    An origami space station?

    Actually, that's not a bad idea...

  5. TeeCee Gold badge


    Well, that's *this* year's IGNobel peace prize sorted out then.

  6. Roger Kynaston

    Now if they could

    get a paper airplane that could get into orbit I would take it a bit more seriously.

  7. Jason Togneri


    Now THIS is the way the world should be.

  8. Bo Pedersen

    Flutter down?

    Nah my paper planes were well fast.

    I would have to have an asbestos nose-cone added to stop it burning up

    if I make it out of photopaper it might survive water for a bit, but the print on it would come off. Epson ink just isnt as good as it used to be :)

    Maybe a race with differing designs?

  9. Bill Fresher

    I reckon..

    It'll probably travel straight into the Hubble space telescope lens and render it useless.

  10. Dave Alderson

    My Ear

    Now as anyone in my office will tell you paper plane's always home in on my ear. So I'm not looking forward to a flaming paper plane traveling at Mk7 appearing in the sky's over Manchester!

  11. George
    Thumb Up

    I say good on them...

    Western scientists are all too caught up with how important they are and how their prediction on global warming is the most important.

    There will be far more interest in this than any recent space project, guaranteed.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Poke in the eye

    Didn't their mothers ever tell them they could take someone's eye out with a paper plane?

  13. John

    Origami ISS

    A space station made of paper would be excellent for the Japanese. It could withstand earthquakes.

  14. Sam


    Marvellous's just that now I'm going to have the Quo's "paper plane" playing in my head all day..

    The Denim, ta.

  15. Richard Hicks

    Re: Poke in the Eye

    At mach 7, it'd tear your head off! :D

  16. Geoff Mackenzie

    Bird strike ...

    " ... air crash investigators have determined that the engine failure was caused by a collision with a message of peace inscribed on a Japanese paper plane at 30,000 feet ..."

    Seriously though, this could potentially have actual implications. There must be some use for such a lightweight, slow re-entry vehicle.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ideal Design

    There was one in the Rupert Annual around 1965 which I've always found can be tweaked for long flights (out of the classroom on the 2nd floor and over the tennis courts)

    Got to agree this needs an International Competition - one slot open to the winners of "The Great Paper Plane Race" competition on the BEEB (judged by Prof Heinz Wolff natch)

    And a prize for anyone finding one (trip up to ISS to lauch the next years entrants...)

  18. Svein Skogen


    Actually, this can be quite an interesting experiment. If it actually survives reentry (that is: Doesn't flash into ash), it would give some weight to the "reusable space flight vehicle" argument, especially since the current version of such a vehicle (the space shuttle) has about the same flight characteristics as a brick. A better (aerodynamically) glider may take longer to pass through the atmosphere, but have less chance of incinerating its biological cargo...



  19. Adam Foxton

    Race a few of them!

    Competitors should be a big white butterfly, a long blue paper plane and a Deutche car.

    Ironically, the Americans would never try this because they're too wound up with their own status quo...

  20. Ralph B
    Thumb Up

    Here's another idea ...

    Maybe they should just empty a big box of dollar bills out of the ISS in order the "reawaken public interest in space flight" or somesuch.

  21. George Johnson

    @Sam - Paper Plane

    Sam, I wasn't thinking that...until I read your comment! You dirtbag! ( Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dahhhhh! Arggghhh! )

  22. Chris

    We come in peace

    All your space are belong to us!

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    YouTube glory awaits...

    ...the lucky person who gets speared through the eye by a burning spaceplane.

  25. Sam

    @George Johnson

    My appy polly logies.

    We all make mistakes, forgive me...oh bugger, did it again!

  26. Anonymous Coward

    conquest of space

    Isn't... errr... like the 95% of all space missions splendily and utterly pointless? (except for comm satellites, of course)

    Seriously, space missions are as useless as studying dinosaurs... or the Voyager missions... or...

    * Posted anoymously: I don't want to be disturbed while I dwell in my self-induced dark ages

  27. Anonymous Coward

    is this the first launch of....

    International Space Stationery?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Awesome idea

    Let's throw a paper aeroplane out of a SPACE STATION, just because...we can, huzzaaah!!!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Message of peace from The Firm...

    "" Ah! We come in peace, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill;

    we come in peace, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, men. ""

  30. Nick
    Thumb Up

    @ martin

    .. Space Stationary.. bwahahah hahahaha!

    Good show :D

  31. Mike Powers

    I hope they let us vote for the message...

    My money is on "ZIG"

  32. P. Lee

    water damage

    If they make it out of the toilet paper my grandmother used to have it'll be utterly waterproof and indestructible - it should survive the trip easily.

    Flames, cuz its the nearest thing to a rocket engine icon for something heading down.

    Excellent experiment!

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ... i thought i said Station[e]ry ...

    unless you're proposing a Geo-Stationary Space Stationery Station Situation?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can I sue the government of Japan

    When their space litter puts my eye out as I walk out to the car in the AM?

  35. J-Wick

    @Mike Powers...

    ..."for great justice", shurely?

  36. Ed



  37. Doug Jenkins

    now, if we could...

    ...just attach a motor to get it out of orbit...

  38. Tris Hoar

    They are...

    really pushing the envelope with this one :P

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More information...

    ..and prototype piccy here:

    I like the idea of this experiment as it's a bit of a laugh. However, I wish these space people would take their eyes off the skies, look out their windows and spend their funds helping to sort out the sh1t going on on the planet's surface instead.

  40. Joe Soap

    Blue Touchpaper

    The de-orbit burn is gona be interesting LOL

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Solving the World's problems ....

    Quote from Anon Cow: " .... However, I wish these space people would take their eyes off the skies, look out their windows and spend their funds helping to sort out the sh1t going on on the planet's surface instead."

    Riiight. I get you. Like solving the world's problems is soo easy, isn't it? What were we all thinking - we just need to ask the space geeks to take over. Unless you *did* mean putting a bullet through the head of most politicians and those wanting to be politicians ... or famous .... and tabloid journalists.

    And people who stop in the right lane before signalling right ....

  42. Phillip Allen

    Sillier and sillier

  43. Steve

    Re: Sillier and sillier

    "It's really overwhelming that a boomerang will go to space instead of me."

    Maybe, but probably reassuring, if it turns out that it doesn't always come back...

    Great newspaper though. Surprised El Reg hasn't followed up on:

    "Transport official caught forging train passes to get cash to buy model train set"

    not to mention

    "Frisky judge quits after biting sex shop employee"

  44. John

    GPS Locator?

    Couldnt' they fashion some sort of GPS chip attachment? Or transponder? Then they could track its descent....

  45. Paul Murray
    Thumb Up

    A message of peace?

    Why not: "Save the Whales"?

  46. Waldo

    Scented candle from space...

    Just add perfume and re-entry....

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