Tokyo-based ALE Co., Ltd.(ALE), led by CEO Lena Okajima, with the mission to make space closer for people, has determined that it is not possible to realize the man-made shooting star with the second satellite(ALE-2), which was launched on 6th December 2019, as the satellite’s meteor source (particle which will be the element of the man-made shooting star) loading assistance device is not functioning correctly. The plan was to realize the world’s first man-made shooting star in 2020 using ALE-2 but now we are aiming to use the third satellite, which is currently under development, in early 2023.
■Status of ALE-2
ALE-2 launches the meteor source that will be the element of the man-made shooting star from the housing (1) to the release mechanism (inside(1)) and it accelerates in the cylinder to release (2). The particle released from ALE-2, which is in orbit, emits light when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and can be seen as a shooting star from the ground.
However, the particle could not be sent from the housing to the release mechanism by operation commands to ALE-2 from the ground station. As a result of detailed verification, we have discovered that one of the parts that is supposed to launch the particle is not moving properly and that it cannot get back to its designated position. This means that the launch action cannot initiate and it is not possible to transition to the release action.
The cause of this malfunction is thought to be due to the specific effects of space. In space, due to something called a high vacuum, frictional force is higher than on Earth and a sticking phenomenon can occur between materials. The results of verification gave conclusion that this specific effect of space is greater than predicted and that there is a distinct possibility that the required force for action is higher than the design value.
It should be noted that we have been able to confirm that all other functions and equipment * apart from the release mechanism explained above are working correctly.
* All other functions and equipment:
【Bus】Communications, high accuracy attitude control, satellite position and direction redundancy determination functions.
【Mission】Release redundancy determination function and payload such as bulbs, pistons and sensors.
■Measures in view of development of the third satellite and beyond
By installing equipment that can reproduce higher vacuum conditions than we have been using so far, it has become possible to make even more detailed verifications before launch with facilities that test the satellite in a simulated space environment. We have also strengthened our company’s development systems. We have increased the number of experts in each field including machinery, electronics and software and by further adding new satellite and ground system engineers who have been involved in space development for many years, even higher quality design and verification are possible.
In addition, in the same way as for the ALE-1 and ALE-2, we will continue in partnership with Tohoku University who has a wealthy knowledge in the development of the satellite bus.
As well as strengthening our company’s facilities and development systems in this way, we will continue with satellite development in the future with an even more cast-iron system.
Despite being unable to realize a man-made shooting star with ALE-2, through a series of verifications of satellite development, launch and operation, we have been able to confirm the correct satellite design policy at the same time as being able to accumulate satellite launch and operational know-how and we believe that we are certainly closer to a successful man-made shooting star with the third satellite.
■Realizing a man-made shooting star
Using the third satellite which is currently in development, we are aiming to realize the world’s first man-made shooting star in 2023. Our new development schedule is as below.
Within 2021: Completion of EM (Engineering Model)
Mid 2022: Completion of FM (Flight Model)
End of 2022: Launch
Early 2023: Start of commercial operation
*Please note that the schedule is subject to change without advance notice.
■Comment from CEO Lena Okajima
Thank you for your continued support of ALE.
It is really a shame that we have not been able to meet the expectations of all of you who have been looking forward to the realization of a man-made shooting star in 2020. This time there was an issue with one of the parts of the satellite that was not working properly but we were able to confirm that everything else was working correctly. We have, once again, experienced the difficulty of working in space – we were so close! I really wanted the man-made shooting star to come to fruition so that everyone could see it from their homes, particularly at this time when there is little good news in the world.
At ALE, our passion for a man-made shooting star has not changed. We will use the knowledge that we have gained for the third satellite and we hope to realize our man-made shooting star in early 2023. We will definitely succeed next time! I hope you will continue to support us in this venture.