Last weekend, Rocket Lab successfully reached orbit for the first time with its Electron booster. It turns out the rocket also carried a secret payload into space at the behest of the company’s founder, Peter Beck. This was the “Humanity Star,” a disco ball-like geodesic sphere, which measures about 1 meter in diameter.
The Humanity Star is something of an experiment. Beck isn’t sure it will actually work. Made of carbon fiber materials, the sphere has 65 highly reflective panels, each about the size of a laptop. It truly is intended to act like a giant disco ball, to reflect the Sun’s light back to Earth as it flies around the planet in a 300×500km orbit. It will last about nine months before its orbit begins to decay, and Humanity Star begins to fall back toward earth.
The company intends the object to be visible to the naked eye, all across the planet. “Most people will be familiar with the Iridium flares, and this has got much, much more surface area than an Iridium flare,” Beck said. “In theory, it will be easy to find.” Such a “flare” occurs when the solar panels or antennae of an Iridium communication satellite reflect sunlight onto the surface of the Earth.
Rocket Lab has set up website for people to track the Humanity Star’s movement in real time.