US spaceflight startup Rocket Lab put three commercial satellites into orbit during its rocket launch this past weekend — but it turns out there was another satellite that hitched a ride on the vehicle too. The company’s Electron rocket also put into orbit a previously undisclosed satellite made by Rocket Lab’s CEO Peter Beck, called the Humanity Star. And the probe will supposedly become the “brightest thing in the night sky,” the company announced today.
“everyone will be able to see the Humanity Star in the night sky.”
Shaped a bit like a disco ball, the Humanity Star is a 3-foot-wide carbon fiber sphere, made up of 65 panels that reflect the Sun’s light. The satellite is supposed to spin in space, too, so it’s constantly bouncing sunlight. In fact, the probe is so bright that people can see it with the naked eye. The Humanity Star’s orbit also takes it all over Earth, so the satellite will be visible from every location on the planet at different times. Rocket Lab has set up a website that gives real-time updates about the Humanity Star’s location. People can find out when the satellite will be closest to them, and then go outside to look for it.
The goal of the project is to create “a shared experience for all of humanity,” according to Rocket Lab. “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,” Beck said in a statement. “Our hope is that everyone looking at the Humanity Star 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.” That includes coming together to solve major problems like climate change and resource shortages, Beck says.
The Humanity Star went up on the second test flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which is designed to send small satellites into space. The launch marked the first time the Electron made it to orbit, as well as the first time the vehicle deployed any payloads. Before the flight, Rocket Lab had announced that the test launch would carry three small probes for two satellite operators — one for Planet and two for Spire. However, the company kept the Humanity Star a secret since this was an important test launch, and Rocket Lab wanted to make sure the satellite deployed correctly before telling people to go see it.
Other than serving as nighttime eye candy, the Humanity Star has no scientific purpose. But it also won’t be around forever, either. Rocket Lab expects the Humanity Star to stay in space for about nine months before its orbit decays and the satellite falls back to Earth. So get out and see this thing while you still can. Rocket Lab thinks it may be visible from the US in the next couple of weeks.