A report in BuzzFeed on Sunday, March 25, says a Japanese start-up wants to start selling artificial meteor showers for a high price.
We first heard about the company, called Astro Live Experience (ALE), back in 2016. They said they wanted to launch small spacecraft that release pellets that burn up in the atmosphere and produce flashes of light like meteors.
With hundreds of pellets on board, the company said they could use different elements to make the meteors appear different colors. Lithium would be pink, for example, while copper would be green.
The company had said they wanted to develop the project, known as Sky Canvas, in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But now it looks like they’re targeting commercial space instead.
“ALE is building two small microsatellites, the first scheduled for launch from Japan in December,” said BuzzFeed. “Each 150-pound, $3 million spacecraft will carry 300 to 400 shooting star particles and have enough propellant to last 27 months in orbit before burning up in the atmosphere.”
The satellites would orbit at a height of about 350 kilometers (220 miles), below the orbital height of the International Space Station (ISS), and deploy up to 20 pebbles at a time. Each display would last for a few seconds.
The idea is that a fleet of three to six satellites could deliver their “shooting stars” anywhere on Earth at set times in the evening, like a fireworks display. ALE hasn’t announced how much it would cost to buy one of these displays, but previously it’s been suggested that each pellet costs $8,000. So 20 pellets would be $160,000.
Given the fuss around artificial satellites designed to reflect light and be visible on the ground, like the Humanity Star, astronomers probably won’t be too happy about this idea. Still, the short displays hopefully wouldn’t cause too much drama.
“These days people are usually looking down at their smartphones. I want to make people look upwards again,” Lena Okajima, CEO of ALE, told Japan Today last year.
The launch this year has supposedly been approved by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), while ALE has also consulted with other agencies including NASA and ESA. It’s not clear yet what rocket they’ll be launching on later this year and whether this is a prototype spacecraft, but we have asked ALE for clarification and will update this article if we hear back.