China Plans To Launch Multiple Artificial Moons Into Orbit By 2022

Moon over China.
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

In a move that could save hundreds of millions of dollars in annual electricity costs, the Chinese government is planning to launch a "fake moon" into space in 2020.

The moon, according to China Daily, is actually an "illumination satellite" featuring reflective panels. These panels will catch and release light from the sun just as the moon does, although Wu Chunfeng, head of Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu, says the satellite has the potential to be approximately eight times as bright as the natural celestial reflector.

The satellite will allegedly be able to adjust its brightness, aim light in different directions (a possible aid in times of disaster), and limit or expand its ground coverage, which could range from 6 to 50 miles in diameter.

Prior to launch, tests will be conducted "in an uninhabited desert" in order to ascertain whether or not the light will negatively affect the natural cycles of wildlife. According to Wu, however, the artificial moon will not "light up the entire night sky" because it is expected to be only about one-fifth as bright as regular streetlights.

Despite the announcement of environmental testing, some are still concerned about the potential light pollution caused by an artificial moon. Forbes quotes Director of Public Policy at the International Dark-Sky Association John Barentine: "This potentially creates significant new environmental problems with what, at first, seems like a novel approach to an already solved problem."

The satellite is set to be launched into orbit about 310 miles above the city of Chengdu in 2020. If the first moon proves successful, China plans to launch three additional satellites in 2022 that could cover a much larger area.

The cost of the project hasn’t been made public.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time such a project has been undertaken. In 1999, Russia attempted to launch an "artificial moon" satellite from its Mir space station. The satellite, named Znamya, was designed to light up the northern region of the country where sunlight is scant during the winter months.

Motherboard quotes the engineer behind the Russian project, Vladimir Syromyatnikov, who said, "No more electricity bills, no more long, dark winters. This is a serious breakthrough for technology."

Unfortunately, after a successful test run of a smaller model several years earlier, the panels of the second Znamya satellite failed to open properly, tearing on Mir’s antennae. Znamya was abandoned, and eventually destroyed upon reentry into earth’s atmosphere.

Perhaps China will succeed where Russia failed nearly 20 years ago.

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