Japan Launches Meteor-Spawning Minisatellite

  • Japan on January 18, 2019 launched seven spacecraft  onboard Epsilon-4 to Earth orbit , including a little satellite designed to create dazzling artificial meteor showers.
  • It was launched from Uchinoura Space Center, on the Japanese island of Kyushu. 
  • The launch was the first for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration Program, which seeks to nurture and prove out advanced new space tech.
  • A start-up Astro Live Experiences, based in Tokyo developed the ALE micro-satellite for the celestial show over Hiroshima early next year as the initial experiment for what it calls a “shooting stars on demand” service. As per the plan, the satellite will release tiny balls that glow brightly as they hurtle through the atmosphere, simulating a meteor shower. The ALE satellite carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret. That should be enough for 20-30 events, as one shower will involve up to 20 stars, according to the company.
  • The primary payload of the launch was the Rapid Innovative Payload Demonstration Satellite 1 (RAPIS-1), which carries a variety of technology demonstrations, including a thin-membrane, paddle-shaped solar array; small thrusters that use low-toxicity propellant; a low-cost particle sensor. 
  • ALE satellite is packed with 0.4-inch-wide (1 cm) particles engineered to create a sky show when they come down through Earth’s atmosphere.

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