Humanity Star satellite to begin early descent

Reflective carbon fiber satellite’s brief mission of “making people look up” will come to an end earlier than expected.


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Shortly after joining the CompositesWorld team in February I ran across a story about the Humanity Star. The spherical satellite was deployed in January by the private company Rocket Lab (Huntington Beach, CA, US). It features 65 highly reflective carbon fiber panels and serves no actual purpose other than to shine down at us as it tumbles through space. The idea was simply to make people look up.

“My hope was to encourage people to linger looking at the stars and ponder our place in the universe,” says Peter Beck, founder of Rocket Lab.

Like many I found the project to be rather poetic. I wouldn’t be so bold as to call myself an astronomer, but I do have a couple of telescopes and spend a few minutes on clear nights looking at the stars. I remember the first time I saw the International Space Station (ISS) track across the sky one particularly clear night. I felt it had to be a satellite as I watched it go and looked up the trajectory on my smartphone to confirm what I suspected.

So, when I became the digital editor for CW the Humanity Star captured my attention. Amid all of the stories about carbon fiber – technology advancements, new aerospace designs, multi-million dollar business acquisitions – was a little story about a 3-foot disco ball in space. It was, in a word, charming. I’ve spent the past week hoping to catch a glimpse of it in the early morning sky (until recently it wasn’t visible in North America as it was making its pass during the daytime).

And now it’s been reported that the Humanity Star will plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up sooner than predicted. While it was originally hoped the satellite would orbit for about nine months, it’s now predicted it will begin its descent within a couple of days.

On the Humanity Star website Peter Beck writes:

“While the Humanity Star was a brief moment in human history, I hope the conversations and ideas it sparked around the world will continue to be explored. These are the conversations that will play a part in shaping how we collectively manage our planet and work together to solve the challenges facing us all."

While the Humanity Star has been criticized as reflective space junk by some, it has inspired others. I doubt detractors who thought of it as light pollution or a publicity stunt will change their tune, but the little satellite’s purpose of getting people the world over to take a moment to look to the stars was, in my humble opinion, noble. I fear I won’t get a chance to see it, but I think the early demise of the Humanity Star makes it all the more effective of a reminder of how finite our existence is and the importance of taking time to contemplate and appreciate one’s place in the cosmos.