Just in case anyone had forgotten that we live in an era when tech companies get to make decisions that impact every human being on Earth, there is now a shiny new object shooting across the night sky to remind you of it.
Rocket Lab, a Los Angeles space startup, revealed yesterday that it released a secret payload on the second test flight of its Electron rocket last week: The Humanity Star, a geodesic carbon fiber sphere with 65 reflective panels that will spin rapidly and reflect the sun’s light back to Earth “creating a bright flashing effect.”
The company expects it to become the brightest object in the night sky. Even brighter than the moon? The company is waiting on reports to determine just how brightly its star will shine, says a company spokesperson. “Much like everything Rocket Lab has done in the past year, it’s a test!”
The Humanity Star will orbit our planet every 90 minutes and be visible by the naked eye from anywhere on the globe as a “reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe.” It is is meant to draw people’s eyes into the sky, according to the announcement, “to look past day-to-day issues and consider a bigger picture.”
Whether or not humanity wanted someone to launch a big bright object into the sky on their behalf is now beside the point. The cheerleading articles published about the launch are nearly unanimous, calling the “disco ball” that was snuck into orbit “more than just a publicity stunt.”
The satellite’s trajectory does fly through something of a gray area. Space advertising in the U.S. is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the company says the FAA performed a payload review as part of its safety assessment of the launch. The rocket itself was launched from New Zealand, and the government there also approved the Star’s launch.
We reached out to the FAA but have not heard back. NASA, meanwhile, says it doesn’t regulate such things.
Regardless, this star will fall back to Earth in nine months. The satellite will burn up when it reenters Earth’s atmosphere. You can track its progress–or begin the countdown–on the Humanity Star’s dedicated website.
Rocket Lab, a unicorn that has raised at least $75 million in venture funding–and was named one of Fast Company‘s top 10 most innovative companies in space last year–is early to the emerging trend of space satellite-based messaging, but it won’t be the last. The event production firm Astro Live Experiences is planning an artificial meteor shower to kick off the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. It will launch an array of different particles that will create a multicolored burn as they fall from space.
Read more: How to launch a space startup