Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Chengdu, China (4E) – The Chinese city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in western China, has made public its ambitious and somewhat loopy plan to orbit a huge solar mirror some refer to as a “fake moon.”
The reason: it’ll be a great tourist attraction and will help illuminate parts of the city at night.
This “fake moon” will be placed in a geosynchronous orbit so it hovers only over Chengdu while it reflects light from the Sun onto the city. A geosynchronous orbit is one some 36,000 km above mean sea level.
The city government revealed that research on developing this fake Moon has been going on for years. It expects to launch the illumination satellite by 2020 at the earliest.
Chengdu’s fake moon will be eight times brighter than the Earth’s real Moon. The area encompassed by the sunlight reflected from the solar mirror covers only 130 square kilometers, however. The entire city of Chengdu spans an area of 14,400 square kilometers.
The satellite will be encased in a special reflective coating that will optimize the light it reflect back to the Earth. A ground station will control the diameter of the reflected light beam to ensure it focuses precisely on the city and nowhere else. The light reflected off the fake moon won’t be very bright, however.
Scientists have described the beam’s luminosity as “a dusk-like glow.” While light this dim might not rouse sleeping animals, insects or plants, it seems to contradict the reason for launching the satellite in the first place. Then there’s the problem that clouds hovering over the city will block the illumination satellite’s light from reaching the ground.
Chengdu city officials also believe tourists will be more likely to visit and see the fake moon at night.
Only one solar mirror has been orbited so far. In 1999, Russia deployed a solar mirror named Znamya 2.5 to light-up cities in the inhospitable and far flung cities of arctic Siberia.
Znamya 2.5 was deployed into Low Earth Orbit on Feb. 5, 1999. It had a diameter of 25 meters and was expected to produce a bright spot 7 kilometers in diameter. The luminosity of this beam was the equivalent of five to 10 ten full moons.
Soon after deployment, however, the mirror snagged the antenna of the Progress cargo spacecraft and was badly torn. After several failed attempts by Russian mission control to free the mirror from the antenna, Znamya 2.5 was de-orbited. It was destroyed on atmospheric re-entry
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