The Chinese government announced its plans to launch an artificial Moon into orbit above the city of Chengdu by 2020. Designed with a sunlight harnessing reflective coating, the man-made moon will illuminate the city streets at night, saving as much as 1.2 billion yuan ($174,000) per year, and offering a technological solution for future disasters or power black outs where relief and rescue operations might be needed.
It is estimated the illuminated satellite will be eight times more luminous than the Moon. It will orbit much closer to the Earth at 500 km (310 miles) compared to the Moon which is 380,000 km (236,000 miles) away. It will light an area of about 50 sq km.
According to China Daily, three moons are planned for lift off, the first serving as an experimental trial, the two to follow in 2022 described as “the real deal with great civic and commercial potential.” To address the implications of such an ambitious project, including physiological consequences for humans and animals when their normal day/ night cycles are disrupted, tests will be conducted in an uninhabited desert region of China to gather research. To the naked eye, the satellite will resemble a star rather than a giant moon as some imagine.
An interesting project indeed, the idea of a Chinese lunar probe raises major questions regarding security and ambition in the Cosmos. On May 4, 2018, China launched the Chang’e 4 lunar relay satellite, what their government describes as a part of four stage mission to establish a moon base. The satellite launched on a lunar swing-by trajectory, described as unusual, putting it in range of critical U.S. Intelligence and communications satellites. An avid Space Entrepreneur might point out that if a nation is capable of mounting an artificial moon into the sky, then the artificial moon bases must follow suit.
US Space Force by 2020. Chinese Artificial Moons by 2020-2022. One may wonder what science fiction development the Russians might come up with. This is truly the prologue to a fascinating era in Space.