Humanity Star: Giant Disco Ball Will Plunge Back To Earth Sooner Than Expected


OSIRIS-REx outbound cruise and gravity assist

The reflective orb Humanity Star is falling back to Earth just two months after it was launched into space. What went wrong and when will it re-enter Earth’s atmosphere?  ( Humanity Star | Facebook )

In January this year, New Zealand-based spaceflight company Rocket Lab launched Humanity Star into space.

Giant Disco Ball Falling Back To Earth

Humanity Star is a carbon-fiber reflective orb that reflects light from the sun back to Earth. Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said that it would become the brightest thing in the sky and should remind humanity of its fragile place in the universe.

The object was expected to orbit our planet once every 90 minutes until October, when its orbit will supposedly decay and the satellite will burn up in the atmosphere. Just two months after its launch, however, the giant glittering disco ball is set to fall back down to Earth.

What Happened?

Some of the objects that Rocket Lab launched into space in January are still in their original orbits. Unfortunately, the Humanity Star has fallen out of its orbit.

Jonathan McDowell, from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that Rocket Lab possibly expected the Humanity Star to work for nine months because that is usually the amount of time that objects in similar orbits and under current conditions are supposed to remain stable.

The object’s rapid descent, however, suggested that Rocket Lab may have failed to consider the amount of drag that the satellite would experience given its low mass.

“Compared to the average satellite, [the Humanity Star] is mostly empty. It’s big for its mass, so therefore it kind of floats. It gets blown around by the wind more,” McDowell said.

Auckland University astronomer Richard Easther also said that the earlier than expected re-entry is due to flawed modeling.

“I’m guessing that the forecast was based on a regular sized satellite, and an object that is essentially a balloon will feel a lot more drag, more than the regular satellites that are sent up, (which resemble) a hunk of metal,” Easther said.

Re-Entry Expected On Thursday, March 22

Beck also confirmed that the satellite would re-enter Earth’s atmosphere much sooner than earlier expected.

“Thank you to the thousands of people who shared their stories of experiencing it with friends and loved ones, and also to those who sent photos and videos of Humanity Star passes,” Beck said in a statement.

The orb is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere on Thursday.

“The exact moment of re-entry is challenging to predict. Based on the current rate at which its altitude is dropping, the Humanity Star is predicted to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on Thursday, 22 Mar 2018 UTC,” Rocket Lab said.

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