China is in the works to launch the first artificial moon that will provide “urban illumination at night,” says lead scientist Wu.
Chinese scientists are planing to position the artificial moon in an orbit around the capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu. According to Wu Chunfeng, head of Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu, if the launch was successful China’s space industry is planning on launching three more objectives in 2022.
China Daily describes the artificial moon as having “a reflective coating that can deflect sunlight back to Earth, similar to how the moon shines.”
Essentially, the moon will be an illuminate satellite which is supposedly eight times brighter than the actual moon, according to Wu. This is because the artificial moon will orbit 500 Kilometres above Earth, in comparison to the 380,000-km distance to the real moon.
“When the satellite is in operation, people will see only a bright star above, and not a giant moon as imagined,” he says.
Wu notes that the artificial moon will not be “enough to light up the entire night sky,” he said. “Its expected brightness, in the eyes of humans, is around one-fifth of normal streetlights.”
If the artificial moon project was successful, the city will save nearly 1.2 billion ($174 USD) in electricity, Wu adds.
“Meanwhile, the extra light can shine into disaster zones during blackouts, thus aiding relief and rescue efforts,” he continues.
The mirrors of the artificial moon can be adjusted for more lighting, or completely turned off. However, since the artificial moon reflects light beams from the sun, cloudy days will result in lower lighting.
“The first moon will be mostly experimental, but the three moons in 2022 will be the real deal with great civic and commercial potential,” Wu said.
The scientists agree that there needs to be more testing for this idea to be certain that the project will not be detrimental to the environment.
“We will only conduct our tests in an uninhabited desert, so our light beams will not interfere with any people or Earth-based space observation equipment,” he told China Daily.
China’s artificial moon project is not the first of its kind. Earlier in January, American tech firm Rocket Lab launched an artificial star (“Humanity Star”) into space. The project received backlash from scientists calling “for contributing to artificial light pollution and cluttering in Earth’s orbit.”