This Artist Wants to Send a 'Star' to Space Aboard a SpaceX Rocket

The US artist Trevor Paglen plans to send a highly reflective balloon into space to act as a 'fake star.'
Jessica Miley

An artist has plans to launch an artificial 'star' into space via a SpaceX rocket and it seems astronomers are not happy. Trevor Paglen has created the sculpture Orbital Reflector, a 33-meter reflective obelisk which he now plans to launch into orbit around Earth.

The construction of the sculpture was partially fined through a crowdfunding campaign. Paglen plans to send the artwork into space as a ‘temporary satellite’. The sculpture's shiny surface will reflect the sun's rays back to Earth making it visible to the naked eye.

This Artist Wants to Send a 'Star' to Space Aboard a SpaceX Rocket
Source: Trevor Paglen/Nevada Museum of Art

Kickstarter helped fund million dollar project

$76,000 USD was raised via Kickstarter to help move the project forward with additional funding coming from the Nevada Museum of Art, and aerospace company Spaceflight Industries. The project's total cost is expected to be about $1.3 million USD.

This Artist Wants to Send a 'Star' to Space Aboard a SpaceX Rocket
Source: Trevor Paglen/Nevada Museum of Art

The diamond-shaped balloon is made from polyethylene coated in titanium dioxide. It will head into space deflated and packed inside a CubeSat.

This Artist Wants to Send a 'Star' to Space Aboard a SpaceX Rocket
Source: Trevor Paglen/Nevada Museum of Art

Once it reaches its destination, a carbon dioxide charge will inflate it. Paglan doesn’t yet have permission from the US Federal Communications Commission to place his CubeSat aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket which is set to be launched within the next two months.

Astrologists concerned with space junk

If things go the way of some astrologists and journalists, the ballon won't even make it aboard the rocket. Critics of the project are angry by what they see as a massive contribution to space junk and light pollution. The reflections off the object might cause problems for scientific observations.

"It's the space equivalent of someone putting a neon advertising billboard right outside your bedroom window," Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Gizmodo. The project has sparked debate about regulating what is allowed to be left behind in space.

"What this calls for is a more detailed and widespread engagement of moral and ethical implications of space exploration, as well as an internationally acknowledged legislation on space and its responsible usage," Dr Daniel Brown, an astrophysicist at Nottingham Trent University, told The Times.

So far this year, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has dumped his own car out with the stars and New Zealand based rocket startup, Rocket Lab, left a massive disco ball in space after a recent rocket launch test.

Space pollution is a problem that many in the industry seem happy to ignore. While startups like Rocket Lab and SpaceX rush to experiment with rockets and satellite technology before heavy regulations come into play, the question of who gets to trash space must be asked.


Paglan might argue, that his project rather than contributing to the problem actually makes it visible "by transforming 'space' into 'place'.” Paglan has responded to online criticism of the project in an email to Artnet, saying: "It's incredibly unlikely that Orbital Reflector would move through the field-of-view of a telescope right in the middle of an important observation and thereby ruin the observation."

He also questioned why people were so concerned with his project when there are hundreds of satellites being launched every day.

For more information about the Orbital Reflector, you can visit the website of Nevada Museum of Art

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