China Is Launching Its Own Artificial Moon in 2020
As electricity costs soar, China turns to building an artificial moon.
The city of Chengdu in China’s southwestern Sichuan province has a problem with the amount of electricity and cost that it takes to light up the city’s streets at night. Chinese ingenuity has solved the problem — the country plans to launch an artificial moon to illuminate the city streets.
Chinese state media reported that the man-made lunar work of engineering is expected to be in orbit by 2020. The moon will be strategically positioned above the city of Chengdu. Essentially, the artificial moon is an illuminated satellite covered with a reflective coating that will cast sunlight back to Earth to illuminate the streets at night.
China’s Moon Will be Bright Enough to Replace Streetlights
Amazingly, scientists believe that the artificial moon will be eight times brighter than the actual moon, however, to humans on Earth, the brightness will be less than normal street lights.
“But this is not enough to light up the entire night sky,” said Wu Chunfeng, head of Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu. “Its expected brightness, in the eyes of humans, is around one-fifth of normal streetlights.”
The city of Chengdu is one of the most populous cities in China with about 10 million urban citizens. The city has trouble illuminating every city street, and many areas experience frequent power outages. Chengdu also pays a whopping electric bill for the illumination it provides.
The new moon is expected to be bright enough to replace most of the city’s streetlights and could save the city around $175 million in annual electricity costs. Scientists also say that the artificial moon is expected to provide much-needed illumination during emergency events like natural disasters or blackouts.
Building a Fake Moon
While China has much more testing to be done, the plan for the artificial moon is considered a viable one. The testing of the light beams will be done in an uninhabited desert so that it does not interfere with any people or Earth observatories. China reports that the testing will not harm the environment in any way, nor will it interfere with any plant or animal circadian rhythm cycles – the light-dark cycles that humans, animals and plants take queues from.
Chinese engineers can adjust the light intensity of the artificial moon, but Chinese officials say that the orb will provide a dusk-like glow and nothing brighter. This statement by Chinese officials was recently released to quell fears of people who may be envisioning more of Lord Vader’s Death Star rather than the government-described “illumination satellites”.
The moon is being built at the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research. Operators on the Earth will have very precise control over the artificial moon; they’ll be able to adjust the reflected light and direct it to specific locations with pinpoint accuracy. People in China will be able to definitively see the moon, but to other locations on Earth it will look like a bright star.
Once launched, the artificial moon will orbit much closer to Earth than the real moon. It will only be about 300 miles away, whereas the actual moon is nearly 250,000 miles away. If the initial tests are successful, China plans three more moons to light up the sky by 2022.
Is China the First to Launch an Artificial Moon?
Russia was the first country to experiment with this concept when the country attempted to deploy a large 25-meter orbital mirror to reflect sunlight on northern Russian cities that rarely got sunlight. The Russians attempted to attach the mirror to the Mir Space Station, but the mirror became tangled in other equipment, and the mirror failed to unfold. Russia abandoned the project in 1999.
Earlier this year, American space startup and Los Angeles based company Rocket Lab launched its own reflective mini-satellite into space from its launch site in New Zealand. The three-foot-wide sphere is named Humanity Star and described as a giant disco ball with panels much like a soccer ball. The satellite doesn’t really serve a purpose other than to orbit the Earth every 90 minutes and reflect sunlight off its soccer-ball like panels. The company wanted to boast that the orb was the brightest object in the night sky; but the company has drawn criticism for contributing more space junk that serves no real purpose.
China will launch its first moon from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan in 2020. The plans have been in work for several years, but only recently have engineers come closer to realizing their dream of the artificial moon.