The spaceflight startup Rocket Lab recently launched the second test flight of its Electron rocket, and it marked the first rocket launched from New Zealand. Named “Still Testing,” the 55-foot-tall rocket successfully deployed three commercial satellites.
The launch from the Māhia Peninsula made New Zealand the 11th country to deliver a payload into orbit. The rocket had an extra passenger that it deployed in addition to the satellites, however, as sharp-eyed observers noticed and the company recently revealed.
Created by the company CEO Peter Beck, the sculpture called “Humanity Star” is a polygonal carbon-fiber sphere consisting of 65 panels that reflect sunlight as it spins. About the size of a large beach ball, it’s visible from Earth with the naked eye, and the company announced it will be “the brightest thing in the night sky.”
Don’t call it a disco ball, Beck told the Washington Post. He wants it to have a more serious impact. “But in all honesty, yes, it’s a giant mirror ball,” he admitted.
The space sculpture will orbit the Earth every 90 minutes travelling at 27 times the speed of sound, spinning as it orbits. Its orbit will last for about nine months, at which point it will burn up as it reenters the atmosphere.
Rocket Lab has set up a website for tracking Humanity Star, so you can see it when it passes overhead. “The goal is make people look up and realize they are on a rock in a giant universe,” Beck said in a statement.
“My hope is that everyone looking up at the Humanity Star will look past it to the expanse of the universe, feel a connection to our place in it and think a little differently about their lives, actions and what is important,” he added. “You may just feel a connection to the more than seven billion other people on this planet we share this ride with.”
Not everyone views the space sculpture as such a lofty accomplishment, as Mashable points out. “This is stupid, vandalizes the night sky and corrupts our view of the cosmos,” tweeted astronomer David Kipping. “Looking up at the Moon and the planets in the night sky invokes similar feelings of wonder – why do we need this artificial disco ball in orbit?” echoed planetary scientist Meg Schwamb.
According to Rocket Lab, regulators of space missions in both the U.S. and New Zealand were informed of the payload and approved it prior to launch.
The company also responded to the critics with an emailed statement. “The Humanity Star will briefly flash across the sky for a few seconds, reflecting sunlight back to the Earth’s surface, creating a fleeting glint of light,” said Beck. “It is designed to be a brief moment of just a few seconds.”