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How Much Would You Pay for an On-Demand Meteor Shower?

by Rick Anderson

Meteor showers are a rare but beautiful sight, giving those lucky enough to catch a glimpse the opportunity to marvel at their place in the cosmos. But if a new venture from the world’s first “aerospace entertainment” company launches successfully, the night sky could soon be brightened by a plethora of artificial shooting stars that make the experience much more commonplace. Dubbed "Sky Canvas," the concept was developed by University of Tokyo astronomer Lena Okajima. Originally conceptualized for the opening ceremony of the 2020 Summer Olympics, the current plan is to use a satellite at the lower end of the low Earth orbit spectrum to launch 15 to 20 metallic pebbles whenever and wherever paying customers desire. Made from heat shield material similar to what you’d find on a space capsule, the pebbles will char up in the Earth’s atmosphere, giving off a brief, but bright and colorful, flash.

While one would think renting out a satellite for a light show would be astronomically expensive, Astro Live Experiences (ALE) hopes to offer its space-age services for roughly the same price as a major city’s Fourth of July fireworks display. While that would probably still run somewhere in the millions, it’s cheaper and more universally enjoyable than one person spending one night in a space station hotel . As with any new outer space venture, the project has its skeptics. ALE plans to have its two satellites orbit below the 250-mile altitude where the International Space Station operates, but that space is set to get increasingly crowded as SpaceX and other private businesses launch broadband-providing satellites in the years ahead.

That’s part of what prompted University of Michigan astronomer Patrick Seitzer to tell Buzzfeed News that “from an orbital debris standpoint, it’s not a great idea.” Even though ALE states it will triple-check the U.S. Strategic Command’s satellite trajectory catalog and call off any event if an artificial meteor could pass within 124 miles of another satellite, that may not account for low-orbiting spy satellites that aren’t registered.

Despite those concerns, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency has approved ALE’s first launch, which could clear the way for man-made meteor showers by the summer of 2019. Until then, enjoy knowing that whatever shooting star you see is real (for now, at least).

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