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A Love rocket launched a "disco ball" into space - and angered astronomers

After the first successful launch of "Electron", Rocket Love revealed that the new launcher had launched a disco ball-like satellite called "The Star of Mankind", which could be viewed with the naked eye from anywhere on Earth. While the company claimed the satellite was intended to encourage people to observe the night sky, the launch upset many astronomers, who fear encouraging the phenomenon of light pollution that interferes with their observations.

Star of Mankind, the new twinkling artificial star in the night sky. Source: Rocket Lab.
"The Star of Humanity", the new twinkling artificial star in the night sky. Source: Rocket Lab.

On Sunday last week, the New Zealand-American company Rocket Lab managed to launch successfully for the first time its new launcher, "Electron". The launcher, which took off from the company's private launch site in New Zealand, is designed to carry about 150 kg to a low-earth orbit, and is designed to provide fast and cheap launch services for the tiny satellite industry that has begun to flourish in recent years.

A few days after the launch, Rocket Love revealed that in addition to the three tiny satellites it had launched for two American companies, Electron had put another satellite into orbit, the existence of which had been secret until then. The satellite, designed and developed by the company's founder and CEO Peter Beck, is called the "Humanity Star" and is passive, meaning that it cannot be communicated with or given any commands. Its shape resembles a "disco ball" - Geodesy ball Made of carbon fiber with a diameter of about one meter, with 65 reflective panels.

The "planet of humanity" was designed to be a fairly bright object and visible to the naked eye, using a fast self-surrounding that causes it to "sparkle" and return the sun's rays to Earth. This is not a new phenomenon for artificial satellites, with the most well-known example of this being "Iridium flashes", bright flashes that last several seconds and are caused by the array of Iridium communication satellites. But the flashes in their case happen to be caused by satellite antennas, and they were not launched into space for that purpose.

The satellite is in a low-Earth orbit of 290 by 520 km, and completes one lap around the Earth every 90 minutes. Its orbit is very inclined and almost polar, so it can pass and be seen over any point on Earth. as per A special site established for the satellite, where you can check when the satellite will pass over any area of ​​the earth, the best viewing time will be during sunset or sunrise. The "star of humanity" will not stay long in space, and in about nine months its orbit will begin to fade, until it enters the atmosphere and burns up in it.

According to the website established for the satellite, "The Star of Humanity is intended to serve as a bright symbol and reminder to everyone on Earth about our sensitive place in the universe." Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Love, wrote on the website: "Humanity is finite, and we won't be here forever. Yet in the face of this almost unimaginable insignificance, humanity is capable of great and good things when we recognize that we are one species, responsible for caring for each other, and our planet, together. The planet of humanity is meant to remind us of this."

The Elektron launch pad for its second test flight, and the first in which it entered orbit around the Earth. Source: Rocket Lab.
The Electron launcher lifted off on January 21, 2018. In addition to three commercial tiny satellites, it also carried a disco ball-like satellite into space from a source: Rocket Lab.

Outrage in the world of astronomy: "space graffiti"

Whether the launch of the satellite was done for the lofty goal of the unity of humanity, as Rocket Love and its founder stated, or as a publicity stunt as some claim - the world of astronomy did not like the new artificial star at all, and was angry at the launch of a satellite without any real benefit, which may contribute to the phenomenon light pollution Man-made, making astronomical observations difficult.

In an opinion piece for Scientific American, Caleb Sharp, an astrobiologist from Columbia University, harshly criticized the launch of the "disco ball": "It feels to me like another intrusion into my personal universe, another shimmering object that begs to be looked at. It takes up part of this precious resource, of dark night skies, and pollutes part of the last great wild areas." Astronomer Mike Brown, from Caltech University in California, tweeted on his Twitter page and called the satellite "space graffiti".

"What is particularly upsetting about this satellite is that it is designed to look bright and has no other purpose. It's the spatial equivalent of placing a billboard with neon lights right outside your bedroom window," he said In an interview with the Gizmodo website Jonathan McDowell, an artificial satellite expert at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

But will the "planet of humanity" really be a disaster for astronomical observations? Apparently not, and a number of astronomers reassured and clarified that one satellite may not cause significant damage.

In addition, it is not yet clear how bright the satellite will really be. A number אתרים They reported that Rocket Love had announced that the planet of humanity would be "the brightest object in the night sky." This announcement, if indeed there was one (it is not stated on the official website of the satellite), does not seem to correspond to the words of Peter Beck, who said In an interview with the AP news agency that the satellite should not be "much brighter than other stars and satellites".

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck with the twinkling satellite he developed. Source: Rocket Lab.
Rocket Love founder and CEO, Peter Beck, with the twinkling satellite he developed. Source: Rocket Lab.

What disturbs astronomers more is the fear that the satellite will open a door to a new trend of using space for commercial purposes, in a way that will not take into account astronomical observations from the ground. "This single case won't be a big deal, but the idea of ​​it becoming a routine thing will make astronomers take to the streets," told the Guardian website Richard Easter from the University of Auckland.

When announcing the launch of the satellite, Rocket Love stated that it was considering launching more such "humanity stars". The angry reactions she received may discourage her from doing it again, but she is not the only one considering such "satellites". For example, the machine project Orbital Reflector Requests to launch an artistic, reflective sculpture that will inflate after being launched into space (although it is also supposed to burn up in the atmosphere after a short time in orbit).

Another concern of astronomers stems from the influence of huge constellations of hundreds or even thousands of communication and internet satellites, which are currently being planned by several companies. "Satellites already complicate astronomical observations, and there is considerable concern that if planned mega-constellations come to fruition, and the number of satellites today increases 10 or 100 times, almost any ground-based astronomical image may be corrupted by satellite trails, which make automatic image analysis become more difficult, rendering images useless for certain purposes,” McDowell said.

2 תגובות

  1. The Americans think there is ownership of space
    But the truth is that many countries already have launch capability including Israel and also New Zealand
    If the star is going to fade in 9 months it's just a petty criticism
    I'm actually enthusiastic about the idea that there is something shimmering about DHA

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