SpaceX to Blast Artist Trevor Paglen's Shiny Sculpture Into Orbit

Trevor Paglen with a prototype of Orbital Reflector
Trevor Paglen with a prototype of Orbital Reflector
(photo: Altman Siegel Gallery and Metro Pictures/Nevada Museum of Art)

Starry, starry night gets more bling...

A fourteen-foot diameter Mylar balloon hanging in the Nevada Museum of Art is but a tiny model for a project by artist Trevor Paglen that is scheduled to be blasted into space this fall.

In partnership with the Nevada Museum of Art and in collaboration with aerospace engineers, Paglen will launch a similar balloon into orbit as a purely artistic gesture, notes the museum. His inflatable, 100-foot wide space sculpture, called Orbital Reflector, will be seen from Earth by reflecting the sun. It will orbit for about 3 months, and then burn up as it re-enters the atmosphere.

The $1.3 million art piece will get packed inside a CubeSat and unfurl in space. It is set to launch by mid-November aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket out of California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Not everyone is on board with the Orbital Reflector, including astronomers who worry that the glowing object will interfere with astronomical observations, according to the Gizmodo article, "Hey Artists, Stop Putting Shiny Crap Into Space." (Elon Musk's SpaceX has experience dropping shiny stuff in space with the Tesla Roadstar launch from a Falcon Heavy Rocket in February---which made for a great photo op before the pricey electric vehicle drifted off.)

The museum describes Paglen's piece with this statement (or disclaimer):

"Orbital Reflector, the satellite, will have no commercial, military, or scientific purpose. Instead, it will be a public sculpture, visible from the ground without a telescope — a satellite that belongs to everyone. It is a neo-minimalist sculpture, inspired by an alternative history of spaceflight that includes early Russian avant-gardists and forgotten NASA experiments. According to the artist, Orbital Reflector is a work of aerospace engineering for aerospace engineering’s sake."

Paglen writes on “As the twenty-first century unfolds and gives rise to unsettled global tensions, Orbital Reflector encourages all of us to look up at the night sky with a renewed sense of wonder, to consider our place in the universe, and to reimagine how we live together on this planet.”

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