Electricity-saving satellite could launch over Chinese city in 2020

“Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight other moon.” OK, so that’s not how the classic children’s book “Goodnight Moon” reads. But if scientists in the city of Chengdu in Western China succeeds in their plan to send an artificial moon into space, the story might need some revision.

They see the experiment as a way to save around $240 million in electricity annually by reducing the need for conventional streetlights. The artificial moon’s reflective coating would redirect sunlight to brighten the night sky. “Wings” similar to solar panels would be angled to reflect the sun’s rays toward Earth and could be adjusted to provide more or less light to targeted areas.

Wu Chunfeng, head of the Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Co., Ltd., said it would have eight times the brightness of the natural moon and be positioned 500 kilometres above Earth.

While other attempts at mega night lights — most notably a failed Russian satellite called “Banner” in the 1990s — have used mirrors, this is an entirely new approach. Wu believes technological advances have made the idea feasible. The Xichang Satellite Launch Center will send the artificial moon into orbit in 2020. Should the plan succeed, three more artificial moons will go up in 2022.

“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 told China Daily.

While artificial moons could cut down on Chengdu’s electric bill and be used to illuminate dark areas in the event of a disaster, there are concerns that the extra light could disrupt biological rhythms.

“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,” Wu said. “When the satellite is in operation, people will see only a bright star above, and not a giant moon as imagined.”

If the experiment proves effective, get ready for the night sky to be a lot more crowded.