New Zealand Is In The Space Race


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!

Electron lift off.jpg

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.

 Country  Satellite  Rocket  Date
 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!




About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. Along with writing for a monthly industrial magazine, he also writes comic books and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. Along with the daily Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife blog, when he feels the hate, will also write another blog entitled: You Know What I Hate? He also works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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