Japanese Startup to Light Up the Sky with World’s First Artificial Meteor Shower

People will soon be able to order shooting stars on demand

photographer taking pictures of a meteor showerphotographer taking pictures of a meteor shower
photographer taking pictures of a meteor shower
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Japanese startup, ALE, has plans to put on an artificial meteor shower in the skies above Hiroshima in 2020. The Tokyo-based startup has spent the last seven years developing technology to mimic shooting stars.

The company was founded in 2011 by entrepreneur, Lena Okajima. She got the idea for her business in 2001 when she was watching the Leonid meteor shower. At the time, she was an undergraduate studying astronomy at the University of Tokyo. After she completed her PhD she did a feasibility study to figure out if her dream of making nature’s fireworks for mass production could become a reality.

How will it work?

ALE will launch custom-made satellites equipped with devices that can shoot out tiny metallic balls that are around 1cm in diameter. Like shooting stars, these balls will burn brightly as they fall through the earth’s atmosphere.

One satellite can carry around 400 pellets – the chemical composition of which is top secret. The balls come in different colors – green, blue and orange – and they burn just slightly dimmer than Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. The precision and the materials used to make the pellets are ALE’s core technology.

The position of the satellite, as well as the speed and angle with which the balls are expelled has to extremely precise to deliver them where they need to go. To create the proposed meteor shower over Hiroshima in 2020, the balls will need to be released over Australia. They will then travel 7000km in 15 mins before flaring up at an altitude of 60km to 80km.

The company’s first satellite will head into space on a rocket being launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency by March 2019. Then, the second will be sent into orbit by a private sector rocket in the summer of the same year. The two satellites should be orbiting Earth by February 2020 ready for the Hiroshima show in the spring.

ALE will launch custom-made satellites equipped with devices that can shoot out tiny metallic balls

Who will avail of an artificial meteor shower?

ALE’s service is expected to be popular with festival, concert and event organizers who would traditionally use fireworks. With satellites orbiting the earth, the company could provide the service to anyone, anywhere in the world.

Each show is expected to be visible to audiences in a 200km diameter. And the startup is already being contacted by event organizers hoping to secure their very own meteor shower.

Okajima says that the technology can also be used for scientific research. The satellites can collect data on the upper atmosphere and explore origins of natural meteoroids to give people a better understanding of what is going on in our skies.

So far, the company has raised 700 million yen from angel investors, but it needs around 2 billion yen to fully realize the dream. It will certainly be interesting to see if this idea can get off the ground, and into our atmosphere.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Okajima’s startup is testament to the idea that if you can imagine it, you can make it happen.

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Written by Catherine McGuinness

Writer and Journalist with a love for all things Japan.

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