Sat, Jan 19, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Satellite reaches orbit to deliver artificial meteors

‘STARS ON DEMAND’:A Japanese start-up plans to use two satellites to deploy tiny balls that glow as they burn up on re-entry to create a show anywhere in the world

AFP, TOKYO

A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Epsilon 4 rocket lifts off from the Uchinoura Space Center in Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture yesterday.

Photo: AFP / Jiji Press

A rocket carrying a satellite on a mission to deliver the world’s first artificial meteor shower yesterday blasted into space, Japanese scientists said.

A start-up based in Tokyo developed the microsatellite for the celestial show over Hiroshima, Japan, early next year as the initial experiment for what it calls a “shooting stars on demand” service.

The satellite is to release tiny balls that glow brightly as they hurtle through the atmosphere, simulating a meteor shower.

It hitched a ride on the small Epsilon 4 rocket that was launched from the Uchinoura Space Center by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) yesterday morning.

The rocket carried a total of seven ultra-small satellites that are to demonstrate various “innovative” technologies, agency spokesman Nobuyoshi Fujimoto told reporters.

By early afternoon, the agency confirmed that all seven satellites had successfully been launched into orbit.

“I was too moved for words,” Lena Okajima, president of the company behind the artificial meteor showers, told Jiji Press. “I feel like now the hard work is ahead.”

The company, ALE Co, plans to deliver its first out-of-this-world show over Hiroshima in the spring of next year.

The satellite carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely guarded secret.

That should be enough for 20 to 30 events, as one shower would involve up to 20 stars, the company said.

ALE’s satellite, released 500km above the Earth, is to gradually descend to 400km over the coming year as it orbits the planet.

The company plans to launch a second satellite on a private-sector rocket in the middle of this year.

ALE said that it is targeting the “whole world” with its products and plans to build a stockpile of shooting stars in orbiting satellites that could be delivered across the world.

When its two satellites are in orbit, they can be used separately or in tandem and would be programmed to eject the balls at the right location, speed and direction to put on a show for viewers on the ground.

Tinkering with the ingredients in the balls should mean that it is possible to change the colors they glow, offering the possibility of a multicolored flotilla of shooting stars.

Each star is expected to shine for several seconds before being completely burned up — well before they fall low enough to pose any danger to anything on Earth.

They would glow brightly enough to be seen even over the light-polluted metropolis of Tokyo, ALE said.

If all goes well, and the skies are clear, next year’s event could be visible to millions of people, it added.

Okajima has said that her company chose Hiroshima for its first display because of its good weather, landscape and cultural assets.

The western Japanese city rose from the ashes after a 1945 US atomic bombing and faces the Seto Inland Sea, home of the Itsukushima Shrine’s floating gate.

ALE has been collaborating with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities, as well as local government officials and corporate sponsors.

It has not disclosed the price for an artificial meteor shower.

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