Electron launch put a very visible surprise into orbit
When Rocket Lab's Electron rocket lifted off from its New Zealand launch complex on January 21, it carried a surprise payload. Along with its three commercial satellites, the launcher deployed a passive geodesic sphere called Humanity Star. The orbiting mirror ball is designed to reflect the Sun's rays and be visible to everyone on Earth as a way to create a "shared experience for all humanity."
When the Electron "It's Still a Test" evaluation payload reached Earth orbit on Sunday, it was already flying into the history books. It was not only the first successful orbital launch to be sent up by New Zealand, it was also the first commercial space mission to lift off in the Southern Hemisphere. But Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck wanted to add something extra to the mission and that was Humanity Star, which is meant to act as symbol of inspiration to the people of the world.
The technology behind Humanity Star is very simple. It rode in the Electron second stage folded up and when deployed it unraveled into a carbon-fiber geodesic sphere a little over a meter (3.3 ft) in diameter covered in 65 highly reflective panels. These reflect sunlight using what is known as the Iridium flare phenomenon, named after the flashes of light produced by the flat panels on Iridium satellites, which are regarded as the brightest man-made objects in the night sky.
The difference is that the flashes from the Iridium satellites are accidental, while those of Humanity Star will be deliberate. To make sure the Star is visible to everyone on Earth, Rocket Lab set it in a 90-minute polar orbit. It will remain aloft for about nine months before its orbit starts to decay and it burns up in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the Humanity Star website offers a tracking window to help people find out when and where the satellite will be visible in their neck of the woods.
"No matter where you are in the world, or what is happening in your life, everyone will be able to see the Humanity Star in the night sky," says Beck. "My hope is that all those looking up at it will look past it to the vast expanse of the universe and think a little differently about their lives, actions and what is important for humanity.
"For us to thrive and survive, we need to make big decisions in the context of humanity as a whole, not in the context of individuals, organizations or even nations. The Humanity Star is a way of looking beyond our immediate situation, whatever that may be, and understanding we are all in this together as one species, collectively responsible for innovating and solving the challenges facing us all. We must come together as a species to solve the really big issues like climate change and resource shortages."
Whatever Mr Beck's intentions, let's hope advertisers don't take the idea and run with it.
Source: Rocket Lab