Rocket Lab's 'Humanity Star' slammed as 'space graffiti'

Rocket Lab has angered astronomers across the world after putting a glittering disco ball into orbit.

New Zealand's first-ever successful orbital launch was hailed last week, but on Thursday the company revealed in addition to two mapping satellites, the Electron rocket was carrying a reflective sphere it called the 'Humanity Star'.

It holds no practical purpose, except to "get people to go outside and look up", according to Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck.

But people who look up every day for living are outraged, expressing their displeasure with the company's space junk on social media.

"Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot @RocketLab," astronomer Mike Brown, of the California Institute of Technology, wrote on Twitter.

"Most of us would not think it cute if I stuck a big flashing strobe-light on a polar bear, or emblazoned my company slogan across the perilous upper reaches of Everest," Columbia University director of astrobiology Caleb Scharf wrote for science magazine Scientific American.

"Jamming a brilliantly glinting sphere into the heavens feels similarly abusive."

New York University astrophysicist Benjamin Pope called the Humanity Star "short-lived and kind of cool", but said it would get in the way of real satellites.

Even Kiwi scientists are tut-tutting Rocket Lab.

"This one instance won't be a big deal but the idea of it becoming commonplace, especially at larger scales, would bring astronomers out into the street," University of Auckland physicist Richard Easther told The Guardian.

"I can understand the exuberance for this sort of thing but I also get the sense that they did not realise that people could see a downside to it."

The upside is that Humanity Star will burn up in the atmosphere when its orbit decays, in about nine months' time.


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