A starry venture - to illuminate your cosmic aura

Ms Lena Okajima, CEO of space technology venture ALE, with Tokyo Metropolitan University associate professor Hironori Sahara (right) and Teikyo University lecturer Takeo Watanabe, speaking about their business to produce shooting stars in the sky.
Ms Lena Okajima, CEO of space technology venture ALE, with Tokyo Metropolitan University associate professor Hironori Sahara (right) and Teikyo University lecturer Takeo Watanabe, speaking about their business to produce shooting stars in the sky.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO - Fancy a meteor shower racing across the night sky to mark your birthday? One Japanese start-up is hoping to deliver shooting stars on demand and choreograph the cosmos.

Ms Lena Okajima, who holds a doctorate in astronomy, says her company - ALE - is intending to launch a micro satellite that can eject shooting stars at exactly the right time and place to put on a celestial show.

"I'm thinking of streams of meteors that are rare in nature," she told AFP in an interview. "It is artificial, but I want to make really beautiful ones that can impress viewers."

In collaboration with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities, the ALE team is developing a satellite that will orbit the Earth and eject dozens of balls, a few centimetres in diameter, at a time.

These balls will race through the atmosphere at around 7-8km a second, glowing brightly from the friction created by smashing into the air. Tinkering with the ingredients should mean that it is possible to change the colour of each bright streak, said Ms Okajima, offering the possibility of a multi-coloured flotilla of shooting stars.

But it will not come cheap; Each shooting star would cost around a million yen (S$10,900), as the company tries to make back more than the one billion yen price tag for the development and launch of the micro satellite.

"People may eventually become tired of seeing shooting stars if they come alone. But they could be coupled with events on the ground," Ms Okajima said. "Making the sky a screen is this project's biggest attraction as entertainment. It's a space display."

And, say scientists, it is not just about painting huge pictures on the night sky that would be visible to millions of people; artificial meteors could help us to understand a lot more about Earth's atmosphere.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'A starry venture - to illuminate your cosmic aura'. Print Edition | Subscribe