Space

Electron launch put a very visible surprise into orbit

Humanity Star is designed to be visible to everyone on Earth
Humanity Star is designed to be visible to everyone on Earth
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Humanity Star is designed to be visible to everyone on Earth
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Humanity Star is designed to be visible to everyone on Earth
Humanity Star is made of 64 highly reflective panels
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Humanity Star is made of 64 highly reflective panels
Peter Beck and his creation
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Peter Beck and his creation

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.

Peter Beck and his creation
Peter Beck and his creation

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.

Humanity Star is made of 64 highly reflective panels
Humanity Star is made of 64 highly reflective panels

"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

20 comments
Readout Noise
"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. "We must come together as a species to solve the really big issues like climate change and resource shortages." This unwanted light-bomb is vandalism and hypocracy! It is undermining the efforts of real environmentalists (e.g. www.darksky.org) to preserve the darkness of the night sky.
Brian M
@Readout noise 100% with you - nothing more than space vandalism to satisfy someone's own feeling of self importance.
Ianspeed
@Readout Noise Totally agree with you. " And if you look to the sky my daughter you'll see a message for humanity", "yes mum, but when can I have something to eat, it's been days...and we haven't had fresh water for weeks"...Planet wasteful strikes again.
Kpar
Sorry, folks, I happen to disagree. The article states that this satellite's orbit will degrade over time and burn up upon re-entry- a self-correcting problem. Furthermore, the loss of clear (read: dark) night skies in virtually EVERY developed country means that fewer and fewer people bother to look up anymore- we are further and further disconnected from the universe. Kudos to this team- giving folks a reason to look to the sky, and, incidentally, providing a "teaching moment" about orbital mechanics.
c2cam
@Readout Noise, @Brian M, @Ianspeed - Really? You don't see the potential that for one brief moment people across the planet can look up and see this little shining light and not help but feel connected with fellow earthlings doing the same thing? One way for the globe to look up for once instead of buried in their smart phones. To look up and see the awe that is the universe? Light pollution from this little guy....meh, it's designed to burn up in 9 months. Move on.
Ruppert
Sorry but Argentina space program started in the 1950s and has been launching commercial and N.A.S.A. satellites even today. New Zealand, it was not the first commercial space mission to lift off in the Southern Hemisphere.
Dr-Zin
Shot it down NOW. Now all the bad aliens will know where we are and invade us.
Dr-Zin
Opps, I meant "shoot" not shot.....smh
Bruce H. Anderson
Selfies in Spa-a-a-a-ace. More like a Kardashian Star, or Paris Hilton Star. Neither is a star BTW.
Meryl
" We must come together as a species to solve the really big issues". The cascade effect of de-orbiting space trash( such as this half-baked idea) colliding with important stuff and setting off a chain reaction of damage seems like an issue to me. Mr Beck might not think this was one of his better ideas when his mobile phone ceases to work and his sat nav fails because his space junk knocked out a real satellite or two.