Rocket Lab, a startup Silicon Valley-funded company, successfully launched a battery-powered and 3-D printed rocket. Its secret payload is now being called “space graffiti.” The company hopes to offer more of this low-cost way to get a satellite into orbit, and they believe that they have developed a vehicle that can be manufactured in high volumes. It is said to be a new age in commercial space exploration.
But the world’s astronomers are upset after the privately owned space company secretly put a “giant disco ball” into orbit. What Rocket Lab is calling the “Humanity Star” is a geodesic sphere that has 65 highly reflective panels. The company claims it will reflect the sun and be visible from anywhere on the planet. It will be the brightest object in the night sky for 9 months before it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
Rocket Lab has stated that they hope it will be a reminder of how fragile the planet is, creating a shared experience for everyone. Certainly, no one meant it to be self-aggrandizing or narcissistic. Hopefully, when it falls back to Earth in 9 months it does not remind us of exactly how fragile life is on the planet.
For now, Astronomers have a different concern – light pollution. Some scientists worry that this sort of incident will become commonplace, with even larger objects. Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology tweeted, “Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot @RocketLab.”
Caleb Scharf, Director of astrobiology at Columbia University, called it an “invasion,” pointing out that it was “infesting” what we are supposed to cherish. Scharf writes, “Most of us would not think it cute if I stuck a big flashing strobe-light on a polar bear, or emblazoned my company slogan across the perilous upper reaches of Everest.”
This brings to mind the movie Hancock, where the superhero draws a logo on the moon. This “space graffiti” is a reminder that science fiction has a funny way of becoming reality. There should be regulations that prohibit littering in space.
Moon Express, a company that plans on launching its first mission soon, wants to have human colonies on the moon within five years. The deadline for the Google Lunar XPRIZE and the $20 million reward is in March 2018. Moon Express has partnered with Rocket Lab and is using their booster for its Electron rocket.
Mike Hughes, the self-taught rocket scientist and flat Earth believer, plans to launch his own rocket into the atmosphere. He leases a Launchpad in Apple Valley, California. Hughes hopes that he will inspire others to follow him and try their own experiments in space travel or exploration.
There may soon be a need to monitor these types of activities, much like the hobby airports that host the small personal planes which fly around and draw with clouds. At least those displays will go away in a few hours. Just as model rockets hit airplanes and fall back to the ground to unknown places, these hobby astronauts will create more problems than necessary.
There are more menacing issues at hand. North Korea’s ballistic missile test flew twice as high as any satellite in low-earth orbit and went 10 times higher than the International Space Station. It supposedly carried weapons that could reach anywhere in the United States.
New spy satellites are regularly launched, to do who knows what exactly. China also continues to build its satellite network, which is said to be used for navigation.
The powerhouse of commercial space travel and exploration, SpaceX, continues to make incredible leaps forward. Their reusable rockets can now successfully launch into orbit and return to land on the launchpad. While working for the U.S. government, SpaceX carries out secret missions and carries unknown payloads.
As space exploration continues to grow in popularity because of falling costs and new manufacturing possibilities, this will become a greater problem for the people of Earth. Someday, space may well be as polluted and defaced as the inner city.
The Exosphere will be a place where people who are hanging out will long to return to the wilderness, to find where plastic bottles and trash do not litter the landscape. The moonscape will be nothing more magical than suburban sprawl encroaching on the rural towns of America, lined with the same few retail giants that are on every corner. Tyler Durden had it right when he bemoaned the inevitability of “Planet Starbucks.”