That’s one effin’ big disco ball, mate.
Or, for you nerds, and I suppose I was/am one… it’s the world’s coolest looking 65-sided D&D die.
Back on January 21, 2018, New Zealand officially joined the space race (which isn’t as crowded as you might suspect – and I’ll prove that below) when Rocket Lab launched its Electron rocket from a launch pad at its launch complex… and it turns out it was carrying a special secret payload.
At 1:43 GMT on January 21, the composite-bodied, two-stage rocket powered by its nine Rutherford engines that provided 34,500 lb of thrust.
It blasted off from the Launch Complex 1 located on the Māhia Peninsula on the north island of New Zealand.
Rocket Lab was being paid to launch three commercial satellites, but hiding behind its Dungeon Master’s screen, the company also launched its own… heck, it’s a giant disco mirror ball… it calls the Humanity Star.
The Humanity Star serves no purpose, save that its 65 mirrored surfaces will reflect the sun’s rays and be visible to everyone on Earth as a means to providing the peoples of Earth a “shared experience.”
At first I was concerned that this shared experience for humanity would simply be a permanent distraction that could affect generations of future spaceflight, but d’uh, I should have realized that Rocket Lab is smarter than me. I hate admitting it, but (melancholy sigh) it’s true. It all further shows how I’m not even close to being as smart as a rocket scientist.
The Humanity Star orbits Earth every 90 minutes, and is visible everywhere around the planet.
According to Rocket Lab founder and chief executive officer Peter Beck, the Humanity Star is meant to be a symbol of inspiration to the people of the world.
While the space flight is indeed New Zealand’s welcome, it was also the very first time a commercial space mission had blasted off from the Southern Hemisphere.
Riding up in the second stage of the Electron rocket, the Humanity Star was all folded up, but unravels and forms a carbon-fiber geodesic sphere upon deployment.
And, because I was worried about the Humanity Star being akin to space junk for future space flight, Rocket Lab assures all us worrywarts that the Humanity Star will only stay in space for approximately nine months before its orbit decays and it burns up in the atmosphere.
Despite the success of the spaceflight, Rocket Lab is still calling the launch “It’s Still a Test” —perhaps because there were a few aborted launches over the past month… with the last occurring on January 19, 2018 when two sea vessels entered the launch exclusion area off the coast.
Obviously when random craft weren’t entering the “danger zone” around the rocket, the Electron had a perfect flight:
- 1st stage shutdown at two minutes and 30 seconds;
- 2nd stage separation at two minutes 36 seconds;
- Second stage reaches a 300 x 500 km (186 x 310 mi), 83º injection orbit in eight minutes.
The Electron then delivered its payload of: an Earth-imaging Dove satellite for Planet; and two Lemur-2 satellites from Spire for weather and ship tracking…
… and the its secret Humanity Star. The little rocket company that could had not broadcast its intent to deliver the Humanity Star to… er, humanity… so it was a bit of a shock when the news was revealed, with glass half fullers applauding the effort, with glass half emptyers calling the whole exercise stupid.
Stupid? We’re talking about the Kiwis in space, aren’t we? A flightless bird no more!
Below is the “live feed” from the launch… be warned that it has not been translated from Kiwi into English.
Kidding. I love the Kiwis and Aussies – made many good friends from those two countries when I lived in Japan… and to be fair, the New Zealanders were much easier to understand than the Aussies, but both seemed to become less understandable with each successive alcoholic drink. Be-ah. Beer.
And, just to show you how impressive the Rocket Lab flight was, here’s a list of all the countries that have put a satellite into space… keeping in mind that Ukraine was part of the Russia space program, and Russia was the main force behind the Soviet Union’s efforts.
|Soviet Union||Sputnik 1||Sputnik-PS||October 4, 1957|
|United States of America||Explorer 1||Juno I||February 1, 1958|
|France||Astérix||Diamant A||November 26, 1965|
|Japan||Ōsumi||Lamda-4S||February 11, 1970|
|China||Dong Fang Hong I||Long March 1||April 24, 1970|
|United Kingdom||Prospero||Black Arrow||October 28, 1971|
|European Space Agency||CAT-1||Ariane 1||December 24, 1979|
|India||Rohini D1||SLV||July 18, 1980|
|Israel||Ofeq 1||Shavit||September 19, 1988|
|Ukraine||Strela-3||Tsyklon-3||September 28, 1991|
|Russia||Kosmos 2175||Soyuz-U||January 21, 1992|
|Iran||Omid||Safir-1A||February 2, 2009|
|North Korea||Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2||Unha-3||December 12 2012|
|New Zealand||Dove Pioneer, Lemur-2||Electron||January 21, 2018|
In a related subject, on January 24, 2018, Elon Musk’s SpaceX fired up their Falcon Heavy rocket ahead of maiden launch hopefully in early February of this year.
The static firing of the Falcon Heavy rocket is just one step closer to it becoming the most powerful rocket to take flight since the Saturn V rocket lifted off as part of the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 60s and 70s.
Yup… it’s been about 40 years since the last Saturn V flew…
The Falcon Heavy consists of three cores from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket strapped together to give it 9 x 3 = 27 engines which when fired will provide a maximum thrust of 5.1 million pounds, which is the same as what 18 of those Boeing 747 jumbo jets can push.
The static fire test involves the firing of the engine while the rocket is tethered to the launch pad. SpaceX had lost a rocket and multi-million dollar satellite after a launchpad explosion during a static fire test of a Falcon 9 rocket back in September of 2016.
But this time, everything went perfectly.
It’s been a great month for two privately-owned rocket companies!