China is planning to put a 'moon' of its own in the night sky, and the motive reach beyond just a nod to the poetic beauty of the real celestial body. This artificial moon will replace conventional street lamps and help save a pretty penny in electricity expenses, the Chinese state media reported.
According to a report by China Daily, Chengdu city in southwestern Sichuan province of China is developing illumination satellites, which will shine along with the real moon but will be eight times brighter. These satellites will have a reflective coating which can reflect sunlight towards the Earth similar to the moon. Placed only 500km above the Earth, the light reflected from the man-made moons will be more luminous than the actual moon.
The first 'artificial moon' from China is scheduled to be placed into orbit by 2020 and will be launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan as a test mission. Three more such satellites will be launched in 2022 if the first attempt turns out to be a success, Wu Chunfeng of Tian Fu New Area Science Society told China Daily. The scientific outfit is responsible for this project.
"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.
The location and brightness of the light from artificial moons can be changed as required, with coverage accuracy in the range of a few dozen metres. They can be used to replace some street lights and save energy. This would also help Chengdu save around $174 million annually in electricity costs if any area spanning 50 square kilometre was illuminated using the illumination satellites, according to Wu's estimates.
The light from the man-made moons could be used to light up disaster-struck areas facing blackouts, aiding rescue and relief operations, Wu added. The luminosity of the mirrors could be adjusted or they can be turned off completely, as required.
In the initial phases, the tests on light from the artificial satellites will be conducted on open deserts so it does not interfere with people's daily dealings or other Earth-based space observation equipment.
This is not the first time harnessing energy from space has been attempted and several countries have made attempts in this direction. Space mirrors have also been in discussion for some time now. Russia tried to launch a 25-metre space mirror to redirect sunlight to its cities in 1999, but it misfired at launch. The project was reportedly closed down due to budget issues.
Edited by Vivek Punj