A Japanese Epsilon rocket will launch a suite of seven experimental satellites this evening (Jan. 17), including one little cubesat that will test out creating artificial meteors.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is set to launch the Epsilon-4 rocket from Japan's Uchinoura Space Center at 7:50 p.m. EST (0050 on Jan. 18 GMT), with a webcast starting 25 minutes before launch. You can watch it live here at Space.com, courtesy of JAXA. This is the fourth Epsilon launch — the rocket first launched in 2013 — and the first time this rocket has ever launched more than one satellite at a time, according to JAXA.
The spacecraft's primary cargo is the RAPid Innovative payload demonstration Satellite 1 (RAPIS-1), built by the company Axelspace as the first entry into JAXA's Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration Program, according to the agency. The craft will carry a solar panel test, space particle monitor, propellant test, a deep-learning star-tracker system and more, all technology demonstrations created by different companies and institutions. The satellite is a bit over 3 feet per side (1 meter) before deploying its solar panels.
The spacecraft will also loft six cubesats into orbit, including ALE-1, built by the company Astro Live Experiences, which will verify technology to create artificial meteor showers.
The microsatellite will be released at about 300 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth, and will have to maneuver down to about 250 miles (400 km) by opening a membrane to increase drag, Amit Katwala reported in Wired UK. Then, it will release centimeter-size particles that will burn up in Earth's atmosphere — according to Wired, they are larger and will travel more slowly than natural meteorites, appearing in the sky for longer.
According to the JAXA fact sheet, the cubesat will also explore whether this type of artificial meteor shower particle can help researchers learn about conditions in the upper atmosphere.
Other cubesats will test a range of satellite technologies: a system to track ocean color and aerosols in the air, plasma thrusters, a tiny unfoldable membrane with a built-in antenna, different types of satellite transmitters and an optical communications system.