When artist Trevor Paglen imagined launching a reflective, nonfunctional satellite into low Earth orbit, the Nevada Museum of Art understood that his artistic gesture could help to change the way humanity sees our place in the world. Together with the aerospace engineering firm Global Western, they designed and manufactured Orbital Reflector. On Monday, December 3rd, SpaceX successfully launched Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express to a low Earth orbit. Carrying 64 payloads, this mission represented the largest single rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle to date. Included on this mission was Paglen’s Orbital Reflector.
Orbital Reflector is a sculpture constructed of a lightweight material similar to Mylar. Housed in a small box-like infrastructure known as a CubeSat, once in low Earth orbit (about 350 from Earth), the CubeSat opens and releases the sculpture, which self-inflates like a balloon. Sunlight reflects onto the sculpture making it visible from Earth with the naked eye — like a slowly moving artificial star as bright as a star in the Big Dipper. Paglen, who is known for works that comment on mass surveillance, spoke of his inspiration: “When we look up into the starry night sky, we tend to see reflections of ourselves.”
This mission also served as the first time SpaceX launched the same booster (Falcon 9) a third time. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, which was stationed in the Pacific Ocean.
sources: spacex, orbitalreflector, nevadaart