This Startup Wants to Open the 2020 Olympics With a Man-Made Meteor Shower

Could the only thing better than fireworks be fireworks launched from space?

SkyCanvas Promotion Movie (Dubai, Singapore, Japan)

For years, the Olympic opening ceremonies have been spectacles on a grand scale and for some it's never too early to start planning. One startup company has a proposal for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo that is literally out of this world: launch fireworks from orbiting satellites to create a man-made meteor shower.

This might sound a bit extreme for a sporting event, but it is serious business for Star-ALE. The Japanese company is proposing a plan for the 2020 opening ceremonies that sounds more like a scheme for a James Bond flick rather than the Olympics. As Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski reports, Star-ALE is proposing to launch a small fleet of tiny satellites that will rain thousands of miniature flares down on the skies over Japan at the start of the Summer Games.

Artificial Meteor Shower
An artist's representation of an artificial meteor shower. Screenshot via Star-ALE

"Making the sky a screen is this project's biggest attraction as entertainment. It's a space display," Star-ALE’s founder, astronomer Lena Okajima, tells the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The general premise behind Star-ALE’s “Sky Canvas” is fairly simple once you get past the whole on-demand meteor shower thing. When the microsatellites are in the right position, technicians in the ground can trigger them to launch tiny pellets. These pellets would work much like traditional fireworks—they would come in all sorts of colors, could be released in specific patterns, and create choreographed and mesmerizing displays. However, instead of launching into the sky via explosives, the pellets would ignite upon entering the Earth's atmosphere, Katherine Derla reports for TechTimes.

According to information on Star-ALE’s website, “The particles will travel about one-thirds of the way around the Earth and enter the atmosphere. It will then begin plasma emission and become a shooting star.” 

The artificial meteor shower that Star-ALE is proposing to create for the start of the 2020 Olympic Games would be a whole new scale for experiencing fireworks. While the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Games in 2008 in drew a record number of people, with tens of thousands of audience members crowding the seats at the stadium, this display would be seen for a 62-square-mile area around the Tokyo stadium, lighting up the night skies across Japan, Marta Cooper reports for Quartz.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, on-demand meteor showers won’t come cheap. The pellets that Star-ALE has developed for its space-borne fireworks cost about $8,100 each, making the company’s proposed 1,000-firework-strong Olympic display cost about $8.1 million—and that’s not even counting how much it would cost to launch the satellites into orbit to begin with, Derla reports.

Okajima says that she hopes to use the money made by the venture to help fund future research to justify the cost—such as new ways to safely dispose of space junk and defunct satellites, not to mention exploring the controversial theory that life may have started on Earth by microorganisms hitching a ride on a meteorite.

Considering that the Tokyo Olympics already is running way over budget, it may be too much to hope for a choreographed meteorite display to usher in the 2020 Games with quite this unique of a bang.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.