Recent reports indicate China is planning to launch an artificial satellite into the sky above a major city.
According to one scientist quoted in the China Daily, the project is near completion and aims to contribute more light to the Chengdu streets below at night.
Wu Chunfeng, identified as the head scientist at the Tian Fu New Area Science Society in Chengdu, said the first launch will serve as a test to see if three additional artificial moons could benefit the region. If so, those satellites would be launched in 2022.
As for the illuminating satellite, Wu said officials hope to have it in orbit just over 300 miles above earth. It will be covered in a reflective coating meant to reflect sunlight after dark.
Though the artificial moon will orbit Earth much closer than the moon’s roughly 239,000-mile distance, Wu said the additional light will not be overwhelming. It is expected to contribute about eight times more light than the moon.
“But this is not enough to light up the entire night sky,” the scientist said. “Its expected brightness, in the eyes of humans, is about one-fifth of normal streetlights.”
Furthermore, he said the light could be targeted to the specific areas of the city in most need. In addition to providing light to dim neighborhoods, the satellite can be shifted to aid personnel responding to an emergency or disaster.
The attached mirrors can also be adjusted, or closed entirely, depending on the needs of the city, according to Wu.
He noted that weather conditions, including overcast skies, will affect how much light reaches the ground below.
“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.
As part of that experiment, he said the upcoming launch and resulting orbit will be barely noticeable in populated areas.
“We will conduct our tests in an uninhabited desert, so our light beams will not interfere with any people or Earth-based space observation equipment,” he said.
In the first phase, he said “people will see only a bright star above, and not a giant moon as imagined.”
The project, as with those like it proposed by other countries in the past, has been criticized for possible light pollution and other potentially detrimental side effects.
Wu, however, described the satellites as an opportunity to capitalize on currently untapped energy.
By providing consistent illumination, he suggested the project could ultimately replace some streetlights and save the city energy costs. Even with just partial coverage within Chengdu, he said the city could save more than $173 million per year.
He said the Chinese space industry is backing the project and will launch the satellite from the Xichang launch facility in Sichuan.
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