Return to Starshine (thing)
|Starshine is the name of a project of satellites for examining the
density of the atmosphere at high altitudes and involve children
Starshine 1 was deployed in June of 1999. This first incarnation of the satellite weighed 87 pounds and was the size of a beach-ball. It re-entered the atmosphere and burnt up on February 18th, 2000 at 15:08.
Starshine 2 was launched from the Space Shuttle Endeavor on December 7, 2001 (it was originally scheduled for May 2001). It has 845 mirrors, 31 laser retrorefectors and 2 micro-jet thrusters (to start it spinning after it has been launched).
The most recent (though launched before Starshine 2) incarnation of this project is Starshine 3 which measures 3 feet across and weighs 200 pounds. It was launched by NASA on September 29, 2001. This satellite marked the first launch at the Kodiak Launch Complex located on the Alaska coast.
The satellite appears to be a giant disco ball - it is covered with 1500 mirrors made by students and is spherical. Because of its shape and high reflectivity it can be very closely tracked and follows a nearly perfect ballistic course - no solar panels or uneven shapes to cause drag. The combination of computer modeling and careful tracking allows it to be used to determine the density of gas that it passes through and thus creates drag.
Each orbit for Starshine 3 is about 292 miles above the Earth in a region of the atmosphere known as the thermosphere. This area is frequently trafficked by spacecraft including the Space Station and space shuttle, though prior to the Starshine 3, few measurements have been made of the gas density. With each orbit (about 90 minutes), drag causes the satellite to drop a few meters, the exact amount is determined by how much the satellite has slowed down caused by drag.
Starshine 3 is expected to slowly descend over the next few years. As it does, the rate of orbital decay will increase. Once it gets into the stratosphere it will burn up completely. If this happens at night, those under it should see a bright fireball as it burns up completely and reflects the light - bright enough to read by.
Starshine 4 is currently being readied. It is expected to be launched in January of 2003 and will carry about 1000 mirrors. As before, these mirrors are polished by students. As of January 20th, only 700 of the 1000 kits have been applied for.
Starshine 2 is predicted to burn up on June 29, 2002 (+/- 7 days).