The city of Chengdu, with more than 10 million inhabitants, will send a lighting satellite “artificial moon” into space in 2020 that will offer the city a lighting power “eight times higher than the original moon”. The objective of this second moon is above all ecological and replaces the street lamps.
Lighting a big city at night can be quite expensive and also leave a massive carbon footprint, so it is worthwhile to listen to alternative ideas on how to illuminate the streets of a city in a more respectful way with the environment. This must have been the Chinese city of Chengdu, which represents one of the three most populated cities in western China. The idea to solve this problem is unusual and the least original: place a second, artificial moon in the sky.
This has been announced by officials of the city of Chengdu who presented their plans to build an artificial moon and launch it in 2020, in order to remain in the sky over the province of Sichuan.
The city has already approved the plan proposed by a private aerospace company “The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)” to launch this large reflecting satellite in orbit that can reflect the rays of light from the Sun to the city uninterruptedly. The satellite would act like an artificial moon that would flood the city with a “sunset glow” throughout the night, thus making all the streetlights and street lighting in general useless.
Because a large amount of electricity in Chengdu is generated by coal-fired power plants, the plan certainly offers a carbon-neutral alternative. It is an idea relative to solar energy that had not been considered before. Not at least as ambitious.
As they explain, this artificial moon will reduce the costs of operation and maintenance of street lights.
What would this artificial moon be like?
The satellite would have solar panels with a super reflective coating. Supposedly, the illumination generated by the reflecting surface would be approximately 8 times what would be expected from the real Moon, and the light would have a tone similar to that of the dark. In addition, the beam of light would be carefully controlled so that it only illuminated an area 10 to 80 kilometers above the ground. In this way, it would not be visible to anyone else outside the city limits.
The researchers also say that light would not interfere with any nocturnal wildlife activity and will have a minimal ecological impact, although this remains to be seen. It is hard to imagine how an unnatural nighttime glow would not have some kind of impact on the behavior of animals, and even on plants. Obviously, it is something that currently also makes artificial lighting that we have.
“With this initiative, they hope not only to be more respectful with the environment but to save money on public lighting and increase tourism”. Wu Chunfeng, President China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)
The scientist aims to put the first satellite into orbit in 2020. If its results are positive, three more could be launched into space in 2022. The artificial moon will be at a distance of about 500 kilometers from Earth, much closer than the 384,400 kilometers that separate our planet from its only natural satellite. “The first launch will be basically experimental, but the other three will have great potential in the civil and commercial field,” he said.
According to Wu, this does not mean that, when the mill is in orbit, it suddenly illuminates the entire night sky: “Its expected brightness, in the eyes of humans, will be about one-fifth of what the streetlights emit in the streets.” According to his calculations, this alternative source of lighting would mean an energy saving for this city of about 1.2 billion yuan (170 million dollars, 150 million euros) if it is capable of covering 50 square kilometers of surface.
The project could also provide light in areas affected by natural disasters or blackouts, which would help search and rescue at night. The brightness could be adjusted according to the circumstances and even turned off completely when necessary.
The idea of the artificial moon: Where it came from?
The idea of this artificial moon comes from a French artist who imagined the possibility of hanging a necklace made with mirrors on Earth. His intention was for that object to reflect the light of the sun in Paris throughout the year. There are precedents of similar projects, but on a smaller scale, in other parts of the world.
Rijukan is a small Norwegian village known as the “village of shadows”. At the end of 2013, it was decided to illuminate its streets with the rays of the sun by means of three mirrors placed on the top of some nearby mountains. The function of the crystals is to reflect this light in the direction of the houses of the municipality, which lives for six months a year in complete darkness.
Of course, placing mirrors on mountain tops and placing them in orbit are considerably different engineering challenges, so it will be interesting to see if this plan will finally take place in 2020.
A similar project was also presented by Russia in the 1990s, with the launch of a solar reflection system, a “spatial mirror”, intended to produce a light “equivalent to between three and five full moons that cover an area of approximately 5 kilometers.
Another Russian attempt to launch a space mirror in 1999 failed before taking off.
The company that will develop the idea also believes that this artificial moon could become a tourist attraction, which will bring people from all over the world to meet the unusual nightlife of Chengdu.
In Chengdu, your neighbors may go out for a short walk in the light of the moons.