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Space Businesses

Rocket Lab Criticized For Launching Their Own Private 'Star' Into Orbit (newsweek.com) 265

Newsweek reports: A private satellite company launched a three-foot-wide, carbon-fiber orb called the Humanity Star into the sky last week. Rocket Lab has promised the Humanity Star will be "the brightest thing in the sky," presumably other than the sun. The orb will reflect light from the sun back to Earth to achieve this effect. It's expected to orbit the Earth once every 90 minutes for the next nine months before it falls out of the sky and burns up in the atmosphere. The reaction on social media has been largely swift and scornful...

The stated goal of the project, at least, seems admirable: "No matter where you are in the world, rich or in poverty, in conflict or at peace, everyone will be able to see the bright, blinking Humanity Star orbiting Earth in the night sky," Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said in a statement on the project's website. "Wait for when the Humanity Star is overhead, and take your loved ones outside to look up and reflect. You may just feel a connection to the more than 7 billion other people on this planet we share this ride with."

Slashdot reader dmoberhaus writes that "astronomers are annoyed by what they perceive as just another piece of space junk getting in the way."

"Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot Rocket Lab," complained an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology. And one New Zealand journalist accused Rocket Lab of "vandalising the night sky with shiny space rubbish."
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Rocket Lab Criticized For Launching Their Own Private 'Star' Into Orbit

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 27, 2018 @10:27PM (#56017729)

    Astronomers without access to space-based telescopes are annoyed because someone is giving them yet another light source they have to remove from their observations. (Ask any astronomer how they feel about the moon.)

    • Because it's space. This is the first space troll. Space trolling on a commercial scale. Now you need space cops to put them in space jail. But you have to get to space first.

      • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Sunday January 28, 2018 @01:17AM (#56018345) Journal

        Because it's space. This is the first space troll. Space trolling on a commercial scale. Now you need space cops to put them in space jail. But you have to get to space first.

        The people who did this are on earth, not in space.

        There is such a thing as space law. [wikipedia.org] Per the info at this link, it covers such principles as:

        non-appropriation of outer space by any one country, arms control, the freedom of exploration, liability for damage caused by space objects, the safety and rescue of spacecraft and astronauts, the prevention of harmful interference with space activities and the environment, the notification and registration of space activities, scientific investigation and the exploitation of natural resources in outer space and the settlement of disputes.

        (Emphasis mine.) Has Rocket Lab broken space law? I don't know, IANAspaceL. But whether they have or not, I suppose they could be sued by anyone who is harmed or nuisanced by their activity, just like you could sue a neighbor who shines a spotlight into your front window, or plays their stereo too loud.

      • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

        It reminds me of a sci-fi short story about astronauts on the moon, conducting their experiments, one of which was a kind of roman candle, ejecting a cloud of glowing {something} into the moon's atmosphere, for observation by earth scientists. It was supposed to glow and provide information when hit by un-filtered solar radiation, or some such.

        One of the astronauts had accepted a sizable payment from a soft-drink company to fit a stencil over the candle's business end, resulting in an unprecedented giant ad

        • by Memnos ( 937795 )

          The moon's "atmosphere"?

          • This isn't google. If you don't know something, you type it up in the box at the top of the page, and your answer is delivered to you almost instantly. We call that the internet. HTH. HAND.

    • I guess some country is going to have an opportunity to test their anti-satellite missles. Who will it be? China? United States? Russia? Time to fetch the popcorn!

      • So instead of 90 days of a light we get a disco ball that lasts potentially much longer. It will be John Travolta's dream come true!

      • I guess some country is going to have an opportunity to test their anti-satellite missles. Who will it be? China? United States? Russia? Time to fetch the popcorn!

        Te last thing we want to do. Taking one piece of space junk and turning it into millions of pieces of space junk makes a much more dangerous situation. There is a reason that there have been few tests of anti-satellite weapons. And the first war in earth orbit will be the last for a long time. The last access for a good while in fact.

    • Perhaps Rocket Lab can pacify the astronomer critics by proposing a mission to obliterate the moon.

  • Actually . . . (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jshackney ( 99735 ) on Saturday January 27, 2018 @10:27PM (#56017733) Homepage

    This seems kinda cool to me. I get texts that let me know when the ISS will be overhead (usually 1 or 2 days in advance), and they tell me where to look, what time, and give me a rough elevation where the ISS will be visible and where it will disappear. Maybe the Humanity Star gang could take some notes.

    • If you're the sort of person likely to "take your loved ones outside to look up and reflect"... wouldn't it be more appropriate to stare up at the multinational ISS rather than a glorified disco ball?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes. And coincidentally, I did this just tonight with the ISS. Here are two links that would be helpful to anyone else interested:

        http://www.heavens-above.com/PassSummary.aspx?satid=25544 --- you'll need to enter your location in the upper right hand corner of the page
        http://transit-finder.com --- for finding when ISS will transit the moon or sun (or a near pass as well)

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        What ever it takes to get us to look at and seek the stars is better than everyone myopically focused on their genitals. Time to scrap the war industrial complex and get the space industrial complex working in it's place. If it takes bright shiny rubbish, then so be it but I would demand they try to clean it up, rather than let it just fall out of orbit. If we spent half of what we spend on war on space instead, we could get to Mars within a decade and likely the stars before the century is out. Or we can j

      • The ISS is also a glorified disco ball, but slightly more expensive.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gravewax ( 4772409 )
      I can understand looking up to see the ISS as being kinda cool. Looking up to see a glowing piece of space junk they wasted millions to get up their! not cool, not even close to cool. Actually it is almost offensive. If they wanted to bring people together then spend it helping people or on something with some worthwhile outcome rather than a piece of junk that will disappear in 2 years.
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        They wasted nothing to get it in orbit, since it was a secondary payload on what was -- to begin with -- a test launch.

        • They could have put a small communications satellite or a science experiment or thousands of other things that actually had a practical benefit so yes they DID WASTE something, they wasted an opportunity.
          • It's a small, Very light, reflective carbon fiber mesh.

            Filling the same space with enough electronics, power generation and communications equipment to actually be useful would've weight _A LOT_ more, and cost millions if not billions in development cost _AND_ would have had to be pushed into a much higher orbit.

            • Plus, you don't put real payloads on test launches. There was no guarantee of making orbit.

          • They launched 3 cubesats along with their reflector ball. So the wasted opportunity is down to 25% of the original zero wasted opportunity.

    • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Saturday January 27, 2018 @11:24PM (#56017979) Homepage
      The problem is the sort of general precedent and concern about what happens in the long-term as launch costs go down even further. This object is deliberately bright, unlike the ISS which just happens to be bright because it is big. What happens if McDonald's decides to put a set of 30 of these shiny balls that form a constellation in the shape of an M?
    • This seems kinda cool to me. I get texts that let me know when the ISS will be overhead (usually 1 or 2 days in advance), and they tell me where to look, what time, and give me a rough elevation where the ISS will be visible and where it will disappear. Maybe the Humanity Star gang could take some notes.

      The ISS is part of an international space program.

      Communication satellites are for communication.

      Spy satellites are for... a different kind of communication.

      The "Humanity Star" is a cross between an Ad campaign and a self-indulgent art project.

      Maybe the next one can blink a secret message [youtu.be] in Morse code or something.

    • Things like the ISS and Iridium flares [wikihow.com] are from satellites which serve some practical purpose. This disco ball serves no practical purpose, and just adds another item to the thousands of items astronomers have to check for which may possibly intrude on their observations for the night.

      It's the difference between someone accidentally shining a laser at your eyes just because they thought it was fun and cool to play around with a laser pointer, and someone accidentally shining a laser at your eyes while s
      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        But... think of Humanity while you stare up at the sky and sing "Kumbaya", holding hands with your neighbors. Results don't matter, only whether or not you mean well.

      • But even that is assuming it doesn't hit some other piece of debris and shatter, kicking up pieces of junk into a higher orbit

        How exactly can pieces gain additional velocity via impact? Every collision I've seen to date has slowed the colliding objects.

        • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

          Isn't it a question of kinetic energy? Two objects that happen to collide and disintegrate. The kinetic energy doesn't go away - some of it turns to heat, some of it is transferred to other objects, and they might achieve a higher energy level (i.e. velocity) than before.

          Roll a soccer ball along the ground, then kick another soccer ball at it. What happens to the first ball?

        • To be pedantic, if a satellite in an eccentric orbit is climbing from perigee it would have a higher velocity than a satellite in a circular a orbit (with a lower semi major axis), and would have an "upward" velocity component, so it's possible.

          Eg. Humanity Star (pe 296km, ap 537km) upon impacting a satellite in a circular 300km orbit will be travelling 66m/s faster (7796 vs 7730).

          Of course, space is big so not only do you need them to collide, but you need it to collide with a specific satellite, so I'm no

    • I get texts that let me know when the ISS will be overhead

      So what you're saying is we already have this thing in the sky and there's no reason to make another? Yep, couldn't agree more.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Saturday January 27, 2018 @10:35PM (#56017761)
    >> a three-foot-wide, carbon-fiber orb...will reflect light from the sun back to Earth to achieve this effect..."No matter where you are in the world, rich or in poverty, in conflict or at peace, everyone will be able to see the bright, blinking Humanity Star orbiting Earth in the night sky" said (crazy leader)

    Congratulations - you've invented Sputnik!
  • Lets put some ads up there.
    • Lets put some ads up there.

      I'm selling space on Saturn's rings. Jupiter is already sold out.

    • I'm pretty sure that's what this is actually about. Proof of concept for space advertising so they can get a big $$$ contract.

  • Anybody have tracking info,
    Two-lines?
    COSPAR ID?
    NORAD ID?
    Keps?

    I'd like to look for it.

  • or... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JediJorgie ( 700217 )

    > You may just feel a connection to the more than 7 billion other people on this planet we share this ride with.

    If you want to feel a connection with the others on the planet, how about you take the millions this BS cost and use it to help bring clean water to the millions of people around the world that do not have access to it today?

    • I think this guy is a lot more likely to feel a connection with some astronomer's fist, if they ever get their hands on him.

      • nonsense, it's just a one meter ball. plenty of bigger *junk* floating around up there, at least this one is pretty

    • Re:or... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Saturday January 27, 2018 @11:41PM (#56018045) Homepage Journal

      This was a test object for the launch vehicle. It did not cost millions. So do you go to the movies? Drink alcohol? Play video games? Why don't you use that money to help bring clean water to people that need it?

      Yes this was a bad idea and a little bit self-indulgent but overall not super evil or expensive.

    • Get real, a space company is testing a launch vehicle, and the advertising and costs are no different than the commercials during a superbowl game

    • Re:or... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Saturday January 27, 2018 @11:47PM (#56018075)

      Given that "bringing clean water to the millions" is not a matter of throwing money at the problem, your comment makes *no sense*.

              Everyone needs to understand - the world produces FAR more than required to simply support the population, VASTLY, and in a lot of cases, we are operating far below capacity because there is no point in making any more.

              Poverty, famine, dirty drinking water, most disease, are all *political* problems that could rapidly be eliminated if you removed the political barriers. In many cases, solving the problem would simply mean killing off brutal dictatorships and tribal leaders that cause the vast majority of pain in the world while trying to grab power. Unless you are willing to do that, all the money in the world will not solve the issue, in fact, sending more money to areas where problems exist would certainly make the problem much worse.

      • by Nkwe ( 604125 )

        Poverty, famine, dirty drinking water, most disease, are all *political* problems that could rapidly be eliminated if you removed the political barriers. In many cases, solving the problem would simply mean killing off brutal dictatorships and tribal leaders that cause the vast majority of pain in the world while trying to grab power. Unless you are willing to do that, all the money in the world will not solve the issue, in fact, sending more money to areas where problems exist would certainly make the problem much worse.

        You also have to be willing to lower your standard of living. In order to raise the standard of living in the third world, the standard of living in the first world will need to decline. It doesn't have to decline much, but it has to decline. It might be as trivial as taking a 15 minute shower instead of a 20 minute one or only having only four Starbucks (or any "brand name" cups of coffee) a day instead of five, but something would have to change. Point being that in the first world (or at least in the US)

    • by inking ( 2869053 )
      Oh my God, it’s the perpetually upset soul being upset comment #56017805. Let’s just stop doing everything we do and spend that money on building water purifiers. I suggest we start with Slashdot.
    • How much of your money and efforts have you donated to that cause?

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Saturday January 27, 2018 @10:50PM (#56017825)
    Do you want Kessler? Because that's how you get Kessler!
  • over some dude launching a Tesla to Mars.
  • how is this any worse... than the literally millions if not billions of pieces of junk already floating up there?

    Were all of the soviet's space tests for a noble cause? Were any/all of the classified military satellites the USA put into space for a noble cause?

    Who gives a shit if one piece of space junk floats up there... at least it's only ONE PIECE of space junk.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Actually, the classified military satellites are for a noble cause. They help keep the peace and because of them allowed the first arms limitation and the arms reduction treaties. They have also helped to monitor ceasefires.

      The problem is that this is highly reflective and could cause astronomers problems. Good news is that it is big enough, light enough, and low enough that it will only be in space for about 9 months.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Solandri ( 704621 )
      Most satellites and junk is invisible. They only flare up when they're at a specific angle between the sun (or moon) and your location. This thing is intentionally designed with multiple facets to reflect sunlight/moonlight from multiple angles, thereby greatly increasing the odds that it'll screw up the photograph or measurements you're taking of a patch of sky.

      Who gives a shit if one piece of space junk floats up there... at least it's only ONE PIECE of space junk.

      Who gives a shit if one piece of trash

  • It's hardly "long term space grafiti" the things orbit will degrade in 9 months and burn up on re-entry. - source, the tracking website for it, http://www.thehumanitystar.com... [thehumanitystar.com]

    • Howdy, neighbour! I'm going to play loud music 24/7 on my backyard sound system for the next nine months. But, hey, it's only nine months so it's not *really* going to bother you... right?

      (BTW I have the same coaster.)

  • Eh, bright? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Saturday January 27, 2018 @11:49PM (#56018081) Homepage

    No idea why anyone is upset. Sure, if you start putting dozens of disco balls in orbit there might be an issue, but this one you can't even see! When they say "bright" they mean that once every quite a few days it might pass above you in just the right orientation and angle from the sun so that one of its mirrors hit you directly during the night with sunlight at a maximum brightness of... magnitude 4.2... If you don't know what that means, it is about as bright as the stars in the middle of the little dipper "handle", the ones you can't see from the city. So cities are out, rural areas can see it, but still it is nowhere as bright as other satellites, ISS etc.
    In any case best data for when/how bright: heavens above [heavens-above.com].

  • >"No matter where you are in the world, rich or in poverty, in conflict or at peace, everyone will be able to see the bright"

    Kumba freaking ya.

    So the impoverished can look up and see how millions of dollars was wasted. I am sure it will really fill them with love and appreciation.

    "With an expected launch total of $4.9 million per mission, " http://observer.com/2018/01/ro... [observer.com]

    • There were other payloads on that test flight. Electron can launch ~500 lbs for that $5M, that's $10K for 1 lb. It probably weighs less than 1 lb, so the most you can theoretically say is being wasted is a few thousand dollars. But in reality they had nobody else who wanted that tiny portion of payload space so it was free.

      • >"so the most you can theoretically say is being wasted is a few thousand dollars"

        OK, well that is a lot better!

  • by Centurix ( 249778 ) <centurix@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday January 28, 2018 @12:10AM (#56018165) Homepage

    The problem isn't just this one instance, but all the following ones which promise to be brighter and up for longer in the future. "Our giant-ass disco ball will be 10 times brighter than the last dudes pathetic pinball, it'll be so bright you won't be able to sleep!"

    Taking a note from the history of skyscraper heights, this could go on for a long time...

  • Next up, space billboards

  • I'm pretty sure I read about disco balls being launched in space before. Grade school science projects, weren't they, carried as part of larger payloads? How is this different?

  • by Traf-O-Data-Hater ( 858971 ) on Sunday January 28, 2018 @06:49AM (#56019203)
    It's a little ironic and a bit puzzling that the country of New Zealand, known for their strong environmental practices, has used their first space launch to put up what some might say is nothing more than space junk. Amazing.
  • Maybe the Chinese could use it for target practice.
  • by Assmasher ( 456699 ) on Sunday January 28, 2018 @09:33AM (#56019631) Journal

    Seriously. Considering the amazing amount of sh** up there for dubious, stupid, or accidental reasons - they're pissed because a PR/Goodwill gesture that will end in 9 months was launched in a way that virtually no other group of humans will be able to replicate?

    Chill, the, f***, out...

  • by mark_osmd ( 812581 ) on Sunday January 28, 2018 @10:49AM (#56019875)
    heavens-above.com shows it as about 5 to 8 mag over my location for the next set of passes (see 9 Mar - 19 Mar) http://heavens-above.com/PassS... [heavens-above.com] Which is hardly "the brightest thing in the sky other than the Sun" and not even naked eye visible at all even at 5.0 mag if you're at a light polluted area. It's possible the heavens-above estimate is low for the magnitude? Your plain old LEO satellites will beat these magnitudes all the time, I've seen many from the dark skys of Nebraska when I was there in an astronomy club. But you had to look right at dusk when the sky was just getting dark but so the Sun was still hitting the satellite. The Humanity Star will go dark just like any other LEO sat because it goes into shadow so quickly due to the low orbit.

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