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Starfall to order: a Japanese startup offers to arrange “meteor rain” instead of fireworks

The Japanese company Astro Live Experiences (ALE) since 2016 is developing a system of controlled launch of artificial stars, which should become a more spectacular replacement for modern fireworks. Scientists plan to put into orbit satellites, which, on command, will produce multi-colored “meteors”, illuminating holidays, concerts and other events.

Some astronomers have criticized the startup for the spread of “space debris”. The publication Buzzfeed News talked with the ALE team and learned about the “starfall on demand.”

Stars for the rich

The project is being carried out by Dr. Lena Okajima and Toshinori Kuwahara, who previously studied astronomy and aerospace engineering at Japanese universities. Their goal is to conduct controlled “meteorite rains” for holidays and other events.

Representatives of the startup are guided by wealthy businessmen and city authorities: according to them, the cost of a single launch does not exceed the price of a large fireworks in a metropolis. In Tokyo, one show with fireworks costs about 40 thousand dollars, and launches on Independence Day in New York – almost $ 6 million.

The preliminary launch of the technology has already been approved by the Japan Aerospace Agency, which consulted with NASA, the European Space Agency and the US Department of Defense. ALE expects to accept the first orders for “starfalls” in the early 2020’s.

How technology works

ALE is building two satellites, the first of which will go into orbit in December 2018 and will be at an altitude of about 350 kilometers above the earth. In the satellite – about 400 multi-colored “falling stars”, which will be launched on command. Each device reaches two centimeters in diameter. At the right time, they will fall and burn at the entrance to the atmosphere, thereby achieving the effect of “meteor shower.”

According to technology developers, the satellite will often pass over most major cities to fulfill an order. In the future, the startup plans to launch more satellites to make its work “more flexible.”

The “stars” of ALE differ from the real ones not only in different colors. They will fly much slower (8 kilometers per second vs. 72 kilometers per second) and shine 70 times brighter so that viewers can see them. In theory, the launch can be seen from any corner of Tokyo due to the fact that the “starfall” is higher than the usual fireworks.

Space debris

Initially, the Japanese startup wanted to make the first launch at the opening of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which will be held in 2020. But the project ran into criticism of astronomers. According to them, the projectiles can get out of control and ram the other satellites in orbit at full speed.

Another problem is light pollution, which can prevent astronomers from studying space. But, according to an employee of the University of Michigan, Patrick Seitzer (Patrick Seitzer), artificial stars burn too quickly to cause inconvenience to scientists.

I praise them for their intelligence and technical sophistication, but this is a bad idea in terms of space debris. I am concerned that in the next 10 years the near-Earth orbit will be crowded with satellites.

Patrick Zaitzer
employee of the University of Michigan

ALE understand the problem and try to solve it. The Strategic Command of the US Armed Forces bases 40 satellites that operate at similar heights. If at least one artificial meteor finds itself in a dangerous neighborhood, then the whole project will be canceled. According to employees of the Japanese start-up, they conducted simulations for a year, and never violated the rules.

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