China to Launch its Own Artificial Moon by 2020

China plans on launching its own artificial moon by 2020 to provide more light for its cities, replacing streetlights and lowering the electricity costs in its urban areas, with more to follow if successful, while scientists are concerned over the effects artificial moons may have on nature and wildlife.

China is developing and planning to launch a series of illuminated orbs intended to complement the light of Earth’s existing moon, which will still be visible, its state media reported on Friday.

Electricity costs are soaring in China, and it is estimated that, if successful, China’s artificial moon for Chengdu alone could save the urban area an estimated $170 million per year.

Additionally, these extraterrestrial sources of light could prove extremely helpful during blackouts or nighttime rescue efforts.

Although the first artificial moon is intended to light up only Chengdu, it will still be visible across China and even overseas, according to the Asia Times.

“Illumination satellites”

The artificial moons, called “illumination satellites” are being developed in Chengdu, a city in southwestern Sichuan province. They are designed to shine in tandem with the real moon. But unlike the real moon, these illumination satellites are eight times brighter, China Daily reported.

Similar to the way in which the moon works, these illumination satellites also work by reflecting light from the sun.

The satellites are projected to illuminate an area of approximately 80 square kilometers (about 50 miles).

If first successful, more man-made moons to follow

In what will be the first man-made moon, China plans to launch its initial experimental illumination satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan in 2020. If the first test is successful, three more artificial moons are slated to follow in 2022, according to a statement by Wu Chunfeng, who is the head of the Tian Fu New Area Science Society, the organization heading the project.

However, the organization has not provided details on how it plans to deploy the artificial moon. Its use of the term “satellite” suggests it will be launched into a geostationary orbit, one that circles the earth above the equator.

Scientists are concerned over effect on nature

Wildlife and many animals are highly sensitive to the light and phases of the moon. When the moon is at its brightest, scientists have observed and noted that the behavior of certain animal species undergoes a change. In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, mass spawning events have been linked to the level of moonlight, when hundreds of coral species simultaneously release their eggs and sperm.

Since scientists don’t yet know the size and illumination these artificial moons will produce, they can’t yet determine whether the brightness will be enough to interfere with local wildlife.

Will it succeed?

China is not the first country to attempt such an undertaking. In the 1990s, Russia undertook a similar project, launching a solar reflecting system, which used a space mirror that was intended to produce light “equivalent to 3 to 5 full moons,” providing illumination to an area of approximately three miles in diameter, the New York Times reported in 1993. However, it failed and another attempt in 1999, never got off the ground, The Guardian reported.