Japan satellite blasts into space to deliver artificial meteors

The satellite launched Friday carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Japan satellite blasts into space to deliver artificial meteors

  • The rocket is carrying a total of seven ultra-small satellites that will demonstrate various “innovative” technologies
  • The satellite carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret

TOKYO: A rocket carrying a satellite on a mission to deliver the world’s first artificial meteor shower blasted into space on Friday, Japanese scientists said.
A start-up based in Tokyo developed the micro-satellite for the celestial show over Hiroshima early next year as the initial experiment for what it calls a “shooting stars on demand” service.
The satellite is to release tiny balls that glow brightly as they hurtle through the atmosphere, simulating a meteor shower.
It hitched a ride on the small-size Epsilon-4 rocket that was launched from the Uchinoura space center by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday morning.
The rocket is carrying a total of seven ultra-small satellites that will demonstrate various “innovative” technologies, JAXA spokesman Nobuyoshi Fujimoto told AFP.
By around noon on Friday, the first of the seven satellites had been successfully sent into orbit, he added, with JAXA officials waiting for signals to confirm the fate of the other six.
The company behind the artificial meteor shower plan, ALE Co. Ltd, plans to deliver its first out-of-this-world show over Hiroshima in the spring of 2020.
The satellite launched Friday carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret.
That should be enough for 20-30 events, as one shower will involve up to 20 stars, according to the company.
ALE’s satellite, released 500 kilometers (310 miles) above the Earth, will gradually descend to 400 kilometers over the coming year as it orbits the Earth.
The company plans to launch a second satellite on a private-sector rocket in mid-2019.
ALE says it is targeting “the whole world” with its products and plans to build a stockpile of shooting stars in space that can be delivered across the world.
When its two satellites are in orbit, they can be used separately or in tandem, and will be programmed to eject the balls at the right location, speed and direction to put on a show for viewers on the ground.
Tinkering with the ingredients in the balls should mean that it is possible to change the colors they glow, offering the possibility of a multi-colored flotilla of shooting stars.
Each star is expected to shine for several seconds before being completely burned up — well before they fall low enough to pose any danger to anything on Earth.
They would glow brightly enough to be seen even over the light-polluted metropolis of Tokyo, ALE says.
If all goes well, and the skies are clear, the 2020 event could be visible to millions of people, it says.
ALE chief executive Lena Okajima has said her company chose Hiroshima for its first display because of its good weather, landscape and cultural assets.
The western Japan city rose from the ashes after the 1945 US atomic bombing and faces the Seto Inland sea where the floating gate of Itsukushima Shrine is.
ALE is working in collaboration with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities as well as local government officials and corporate sponsors.
It has not disclosed the price for an artificial meteor shower.


Australia says foreign government behind cyberattack on lawmakers

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Australia says foreign government behind cyberattack on lawmakers

  • Morrison did not name any suspects, but analysts have said China, Russia and Iran were the most likely culprits

SYDNEY: A cyberattack on Australian lawmakers that breached the networks of major political parties was probably carried out by a foreign country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, without naming any suspects.
As Australia heads for an election due by May, lawmakers were told this month told to urgently change their passwords after the cyber intelligence agency detected an attack on the national parliament’s computer network.
The hackers breached the networks of Australia’s major political parties, Morrison said, as he issued an initial assessment by investigators.
“Our cyber experts believe that a sophisticated state actor is responsible for this malicious activity,” he told parliament.
“We also became aware that the networks of some political parties, Liberal, Labor and Nationals have also been affected.”
Morrison did not reveal what information was accessed, but he said there was no evidence of election interference.
Australians will return to the polls by May.
Morrison did not name any suspects, but analysts have said China, Russia and Iran were the most likely culprits.
“When you consider motivation, you would have to say that China is the leading suspect, while you wouldn’t rule out Russia either,” said Fergus Hanson, head of the International Cyber Policy Center at think-tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“It is the honey-pot of juicy political gossip that has been hoovered up. Emails showing everything from the dirty laundry of internal fights through to who supported a policy could be on display.”
Ties with China have deteriorated since 2017, after Canberra accused Beijing of meddling in its domestic affairs. Both countries have since sought to mend relations, but Australia remains wary of China.
Tension rose this month after Australia rescinded the visa of a prominent Chinese businessman, just months after barring Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies from supplying equipment to its 5G broadband network.
Officers of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency covertly monitored computers of US Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and campaign committees, and stole large amounts of data, US investigators have concluded.