Rocket Lab reveals secret payload

When the company you founded is worth more than $US1 billion and has just created a whole new industry for New Zealand, you're allowed a grand gesture.

And thus Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck has just revealed the nature of the secret fourth payload on the Electron rocket that successfully launched on Sunday: an artificial star that is expected to become the brightest object in the night sky.

The Humanity Star is intended to serve as a focal point for humanity, as every single person on Earth will have the opportunity to see and experience it, Mr Beck says. The satellite will appear as a bright, glinting star shooting across the night sky.

See for tracking and timings; the artificial satellite will be at its most visible over New Zealand after February 2018 due to the satellite's changing orbital position. 

Created by Mr Beck, the project is about drawing people’s eyes up and encouraging people to look past day-to-day issues and consider a bigger picture, the chief executive says.

“No matter where you are in the world, or what is happening in your life, everyone will be able to see the Humanity Star in the night sky. My hope is that all those looking up at it will look past it to the vast expanse of the universe and think a little differently about their lives, actions and what is important for humanity,” he says.

However, initial reader comments (see below) have indicated one man's romantic gesture can be another's space junk; critiques that recall Billy Bragg's immortal lyric "Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?"

For Rocket Lab, comms manager Morgan Bailey responds, "The Humanity Star is designed to be up there for about nine months, a much shorter orbital lifespan than most other items placed in orbit."

The Humanity Star (pictured) is a geodesic sphere made from carbon fibre with 65 highly reflective panels. The sphere spins rapidly, reflecting the sun’s light back to Earth, creating a bright, flashing effect that can be seen in the night sky. 

It will orbit the Earth for approximately nine months before its orbit starts to decay and the satellite is pulled back into Earth’s gravity, burning the satellite on re-entry.

Earlier this week, Mr Beck told NBR the Kiwi-American company is aiming for a launch per month by the end of this year, and a launch per week by the end of 2019.

At the rate of one launch per month, it will take two years to clear its current backlog of orders. Read more about his company's plans here.

Watch the full video on Peter Beck's NBR Radar profile by pressing the play button

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