21 Mar 2018

Disco inferno: 'Humanity Star' to burn up soon

5:10 pm on 21 March 2018

Rocket Lab's Humanity Star satellite will be crashing back to earth sooner than expected.

Rocket Lab's Humanity Star satellite.

Rocket Lab's Humanity Star satellite. Photo: Supplied / Rocket Lab

The 'Humanity Star' is a geodesic sphere made from carbon fibre with 65 highly reflective panels. Due to its distinctive design, some critics referred to it as a disco ball.

The satellite was launched in January and was supposed to orbit for nine months, but is now expected to burn up in the coming days.

Rocket Lab said the exact moment of re-entry was difficult to predict and depended on the atmospheric drag it experiences.

Sam Leske, editor of the Milky-Way.kiwi website, said the satellite was comparatively light for its size.

"It's quite big...and it's very light - it's only 10 kilograms. So something like that is going to experience drag, atmospheric drag, probably a lot more than something a bit heavier."

The Humanity Star will burn up completely upon re-entry, and no part of the satellite will reach Earth's surface.

Rocket Lab's launch of the satellite was met with a mixture of excitement and criticism.

At the time, company founder Peter Beck said he wanted the first satellite New Zealand launched to be "something a little bit special".

"It was really important that we do something that the whole world can share in and enjoy," he said.

It was not space junk, and would safely burn up on re-entry, Mr Beck said.

"The night sky is full of stars, this is just one other star ... It's not like we're polluting out the night sky with a whole bunch of stuff.

"But it is a symbol and hopefully it's something that people can gravitate to," he said.

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