Rocket Lab launches Japanese satellite that’s designed to spit out shooting stars for Olympics

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifted off from its New Zealand launch pad today, sending a shooting-star satellite and six other miniaturized satellites into orbit.

  • Japan’s ALE-2 satellite is designed to drop bunches of chemical pellets into the atmosphere from orbit, producing fiery streaks of glowing plasma that look like meteor showers. The “Sky Canvas” mission, arranged with logistical help from Seattle-based Spaceflight, could well light up the skies over the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremonies next June. New Zealand authorities cleared the satellite for launch after determining that the displays wouldn’t pose a danger and would have a “negligible” effect on light pollution.
  • The six other payloads are 2-inch-wide PocketQube microsatellites from Alba Orbital, built for purposes ranging from a demonstration of satellite-to-satellite communications to a student-led experiment to measure human-made electromagnetic pollution.
  • Today’s mission was nicknamed “Running Out of Fingers” because it was the 10th launch for Rocket Lab’s low-cost Electron rocket. This was the first rocket equipped with guidance and navigation hardware for monitoring the first-stage booster’s atmospheric re-entry, as well as a thruster system to control the booster’s orientation during descent. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck tweeted that the systems worked as planned, marking a “massive step” toward recovering and reusing the boosters to drive down the cost of future launches .

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