Wednesday , May 25 2022

SpaceX Launches Trevor Paglen's Piece of Art Into Orbit



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When SpaceX Falcon 9 is launching a Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, to the north of Santa Barbara, California, its charge will consist of 64 small libraries of 34 organizations and 17 countries, and all One of them has paid a blast for the Spaceflight Industries launch broker to blow 350 miles up and release to the low ground orbit.

Most of these satellites intend to make some use of use, be it communication, observation, or science. But there is one small satellite that aims to do nothing more than highlighting people around the world to stimulate an initial, atavatic motivation: look at the sky of the night and marvel what's out there.

In April, and the satellite creator Trevor Paglen, sits in the lobby of Hampton Inn in West Covina, California, 20 miles east of Downtown LA, explaining & # 39; The rationale behind the project that calls the Orbital Reflector.

"The point to me really was to create a type of catalyst for looking at the air and thinking about everything from satellites to satellites to look after public food and ask, What does it mean to be on the planet this? & # 39; " Paglen said, who has come to California to see some crucial earlier tests on her creation. "There's an incredible question in some ways, but the content of the question is always changing."

Paglen has described the project, held in partnership with the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, as "the first satellite to exist as an artistic posture only." As gestures go, they are not cheap – their budget of $ 1.5 million has been funded by the museum, private donors, and the Kickstarter campaign – but it's definitely true for their name.

Once it is an orbit, it will use a 100-foot, four-foot balloon made of high density polyethylene covered with titanium dioxide powder that will reflect light back to the ground, making it so visible The naked eye as a star in the Big Dipper, a work of public art striking through the night, is visible to anyone who looks into clear air at the right time, and & # 39; to track through the project website and partnership with the Starwalk 2 app.

"The aim is to build this out so that it is just opposite every other satellite," said Paglen, who has a long history of art projects that show the dark world of government surveillance. Where other satellites could spy or photograph or measure, its will will be flawed, it is useless complex. It will stay in the air for at least two months and then burn up into the atmosphere on re-entry. "There's a way to make artwork that exists and think about the scale of the planet."

The new peripatetic Folder flies in from Berlin, where its studio is based, but where its career and travel schedule has accelerated, it's spending more time. He is wearing a normal dress of white T-shirt, dark jeans, and shoes. A pair of aviator style sunglasses is sitting on the table next to his phone and bottle of Cherry Coke Zero. It's jet-lagged and it's just a bit full.

The development of the Orbital Reflector has been a long and complex process, one that Paglen has been fishing among other projects and collaborations and museum shows and lectures.

The 44-year-old artist strikes his full-speed medium route – won last year's Macarthur Foundation "genius" grant and this year's June Paik Arts Center Named Award, and has a significant retrospective at the moment. Smithsonian American Museum of Art in DC. Paglen has emerged as one of the most entertaining and most entertaining and most entertaining of those that are highly supervised & Producer is a timely and multi-technical work, many of which have focused on the security state and the growing privacy idea.

The Orbital Reflector project is "a way of doing existing artwork and thinking about the scale of the planet," said Paglen, drawn up in Studio City, California, in November 2018.

Maggie Shannon

He has a PhD in geography from Berkeley and has pioneered a field that calls "experimental geography", exploring the spatial implications of these invisible worlds with the aim of making us, finally, to see them. He has walked to "empty spaces on the map" to photograph confidential military centers; he learned to pump plumbing so he could photograph secretly spilled underwater data cables; he has charted a spy satellite course and surveillance aircraft; and he has sent him a series of images, The Last Pictures, to orbit a deep space in an attempt to create an ancient planet that could be more than a planet.

Orbital Reflector is a logical extension of the questions that Paglen has ever been asking, with reach and complexity, for decades. It is also a timely call for us all to look closer in the thriving space industry. And just like the earthly work of Paglen asks viewers to try to see the hidden physical shape of the hidden world, its assault to an out-of-town space means to highlight the way the fighting is increasingly suffering from the worst and worst intentions of the men and the inadvertent results that accompany them.

Paglen wants you to know, for every Hubble telescope that looks out in the galaxies beyond us, there are more dozens of satellites whose electronic eyes have trained on Earth itself – monitor, broadcast, transfer, watch.

Space, in other words, is not flawed. One of the other payloads that launch on the same rocket, which makes sure to note it, "basically as a commercial spy satellite. They would not call it , but that's what it is. "

It's going close to lunch time, and other members of the Orbital Regeneration team are starting to collect in the lobby before going to a nearby restaurant. Amanda Horn, director of communications for the Nevada Museum of Art, has played a crucial role in pastoralizing every aspect of the project, coming in and sitting next to us. "I want to introduce you to Zia," he says to me, "and you can ask him for some of the technical aspects as we have a little time now."

"Perfect," said Paglen. "We're talking about drag habitat and the implications for balloon design."

If the Corn is responsible for keeping this train on the track, then engineer Zia Oboodiyat, project manager and veteran of a satellite launch, make sure he runs. An indigent man who left Iran as a boy, Oboodiyat met semirriol Paglen in 2011 while working on her Last pictures project. He writes poetry and has a philosophical pitch, and as we recall different questions about the complexities and potential problems of the launch, he appears peacefully.

Mark Caviezel, left, one of the engineers on the project, works with Paglen, the center, and the manager of the Zio Oboodiyat project.

Grateful to the artist and the Nevada Museum of Art

"As far as possible, we anticipate and test the risks and simulate the conditions that the satellite will face. That is the tomorrow's test: to simulate the dynamic forces of the launch conditions," says Oboodiyat. "We have done our analysis, we have checked our assumptions, but there is a danger to any space programs and all of us."

Horn puts him an envelope, and draws out four pieces that Paglen and the museum have made as part of the project. Paglen still has an ethnographer interest in the culture around this secret world and has collected the cloths commissioned by different confidential government programs and agencies, usually including snakes or skulls or octopus.

Her tongue-in-bits for Orbital Reflector is a cartoon, with mottos that usually appear as interior jokes for the process of building your own satellite: "Orbital / In-Space Reflector Logistics No one can listen to you chi "; "Reno, We have Problem / #NotMy Problems"; "Ad Astra Per Cartam" ("I've been using paperwork"). Oboodiyat raises a blue circle pack with an embroidered image of a child who smiles and reads the wonderful slogan across the top.

"Space is difficult?" He reads, laughs first. "Space is hard. "

Mark Caviezel, one Half of the engineering duo of Global Western, the company that built the Orbital Reflector, opens for a Pelican black case to reveal a spectacular aluminum rectangle for the size of large bread. "Very trevor, your bird," he said, pulling it out with a fine fountain. "That's your plane."

It's 8 hours a morning, and we are in an industrial park not described in Covina in the unnamed Unified Combined Laboratories. Walking through her door up feels like stepping into a war, a cavernous place was half a machine and half store for computer towers and machines that looked like they had been there since the 1970's.

The "space age" term tends to generate some idea of ​​slic's future, but we forget that the first space age and all the Cold War age investment take place half a century ago. The era of the aerospace industry was a huge boost of the southern economy of California, mainly behind military spending and defense at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and a constitution of private contractors such as Hughes, located in nearby Fullerton. Some of those machines made by the USA, including the computers that were run – were built – to continue and are still being used for tests such as these.

"It reminds me of the day I started working in this industry," said Oboodiyat as one of the 8 inch flexible disk insert technicians and started hitting a machine look alone that is connected to a "5427A Removal Control System" wardrobe unit. "" Many of these things really belong to the Smithsonian. "

The actual futuristic cube-satellite inside the anodized aluminum case, which simulates exactly how much its pod on the launch vehicle is the only brightest among the all things clear. But while looking out of place, it makes perfect sense. The facility is still active and exactly the type of place that Paglen has spent years looking for and writing about it, is a goal of hidden industrial-protection complexity. A clear look, had to hide only by its ban.

Caviezel seems to confirm this suspicion. "They usually do not have a lot of viewers about what like this. Not many cameras," he said. "Most people come here – Lockheed, Boeing, the last thing they want is that people know they've been here."

In fact, our group, which includes the Global of three team, Oboodiyat, Horn, a museum maker, a documentary crew from Australia, and I, spoil our accommodation a bit.

"Usually I'm only here," said Larry, the technician who runs the test, "so this is a bit unusual." Oboodiyat is trying to explain the project to him: "There is an art, there's a science, both. It's unique."

Caviezel warned me that the test known as shaking the unit would not be included was the most exciting thing: the satellite unit would be boiled to a metal plate attached to "shaker "electrodynamic that would send a high frequency of vibrations throughout to simulate the rigors of the launch, it is only more violent. "There are not many huge steps, so I hope you're not disappointed. The most exciting thing could attach and block the unit," to allow & # 39; r a test is run along the x, y, and z axes.

As I watch the technician, put the satellite in detail to the platform with a parallel aluminum braces being bollled into the plastic, it is not "exciting" and the word that comes I'm thinking. The shaker itself looks like a cement mixer attached to a welding board. "This is a later model for us; it's probably built in the" 80s, "says Larry when I ask." These things last for a long time years. "

Sitting in an adjoining board, Paglen answers a few questions to the document crew and is checking its phone. He has a flying to catch up talking in Berkeley, and is worried to go to the airport. As long as he wants to wait and observe, things move slowly, and they have been saying "another five minutes" for about an hour.

"Hey Trevor, do not take it away, Larry says we're good to go," said Gary Snyder, another half of the Global Western team.

"This first part will not be very impressive," said Larry. "It's pretty quiet." Then hands out ear ear cushions, and all eyes turn to the small cashbox. The machine starts with unnecessary semi-truck noise in need, but otherwise, as promised, it seems that nothing happens.

She has been A long journey to this point for Paglen, no matter how anticlimactic it seemed to watch a metal cube is vibrated in frequencies beyond what the human eye can find . His father was an ophthalmologist of the Air Force and the family lived at centers in Maryland, Texas and California before settling in the airport in Wiesbaden, Germany, when Trevor was too high.

He returned to the states for a college in Berkeley, where he studied religion and music and took part in a prison activation, leading to a series of sound recordings made in different prisons through hidden microphone. In his manifestation of hidden world, that project was a piece of things to come.

Paglen went on to MFA at the Chicago Art Institute before starting a PhD in geography back in Berkeley, where the story goes, he was pressing for US airplanes, looking for prisons, when he was stuck on Huge areas designated say secretly military sites. He visited Nevada 51 in the first Area in 2003, which was a starting point for a research body that became a dissertation and, ultimately, the book Spot Spots on the Map, where Paglen creates the geography of confidentiality, the physical presence of the "secret state within a state".

"Geography tells us that confidentiality is always bound to fail," Paglen writes in his book in 2009 Spot Spots on the Map. Using a long exposure at night, this photo of an observer in the Thriller of West Virginia National Radio ("They Watch the Moon") in 2010.

Grateful to the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

"Geography theory tells us that things can not be done, to do things that do not exist," Paglen writes in the book. "Geography tells us that confidentiality, in other words, is always bound to fail."

Method Paglen, then like now, was to question everything. He was thoroughly steering incredibly, depending on FOIA applications, archival research, interviews with industry sources, and on the floor. Along with the book, he went into deserts and mountains to produce a series of arrested landscape images of these dark sites, some taken from a distance to 60 miles away. The first time turning its skyward lens, learning how to identify, track and photograph spyware satellites for a project of the name The Night Night Sky. The results are surrealistic and familiar, completely novel and have rooted again in our visual culture.

"In The Night Night Sky, he responded to landscape photography traditions, a timely axis calling for historical predecessors, including Timothy O Sullivan and Ansel Adams, "writes John P. Jacob, McEvoy Family Curator for Photography in the Smithsonian, in an essay Unnecessary Sites, the monogram accompanying one Smithsonian single-one Pagell show of the same name. The pictures look up, instead of out, Jacob writes, so they do not have a terrestrial perspective. They are amazingly disorganized. "

"Singleton / SBW ASS-R1 and Unknown Space Space Overseas (Wide Area Surveillance System, USA 32)," 2012, C-print

Grateful to the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

It was around the time of that project, in the middle to the end of the 2000s, which began to think about the project that would become an Orbital Student. In 2008, a team began to work on the project, and in 2013 it released four prototypes for non-operational satellites.

The one that led most directly to the Orbital Reflector was around the idea of ​​an objective, reflective, anti-spyral satellite, echoing the idea of ​​Russian artists Kazimir Malevich of the 1920s of blankets made by man and conflicts & 39; r normal relationship: We spy on it instead of vice versa. He would not record anything, do not do anything, try no more purpose than being an artificial short-lived star, which is intended to eventually flame.

According to Paglen, here is the aerospace version of "art for art," an attempt to see "what aerospace engineering would be like if its methods were disconnected from the corporate and military benefits that # 39; n sail to industry. " Or as he re-tested the 2015 Lecture in the Smithsonian: "Could you build a non-weapon satellite? Can you build a satellite that had no commercial, scientific or military function at all? Could you just build satellite because you are want to build one, because you think it would be lovely? "

It seems you could, but it's not easy. In 2015, however, Paglen found a partner for the project at the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art. "The Nevada Museum of Art has been wonderful and creative in terms of being able to think about how to make a project like this and develop an interesting program of scope," said Paglen. They, notes, are also brave to take at all, given the possibility of failing. "Actually, it's a very dangerous project for an organization to do," he said.

From the museum's perspective, it was a project, and an artist, which fits with his mission. "We focus great on art and environment in the West, where the built and natural world is crossing, and we have a huge archive of land art," said Horn during one of the & First discussions about the project. "For us, this is basically a piece of art in the air."

Corn led fundraising and shepherds helped many of the logistical details, becoming an expert in the paperwork that really seems to be a lightning fuel. "I'm not sure any other art museum would have taken this," he said. "But we do not like taking those who risk at least."

Together they congregate the budget and engineering team, starting with Oboodiyat, and have tried to take advantage of the rapid development of the commercial space sector, which has made satellite launches affordable after fashion, especially for The two smallest categories: microsatellians and nanosatellites.

In the last category, characterized as a weighing press between 1 and 10 kilograms, the industry has fits around the original CubeSat standard, and a format initially introduced with academic research projects in mind but which is now used for a host of uses. (Earlier this week, two CubeSats played a key part of NASA's communication support at InSight Lander successfully on Mars. They went with the red planet to get into the CubeSats first to go beyond the low ground orbit and send remarkable photos back.)

The CubeSat format takes a 10 centimeter cube as its base unit, and the Orbital Reflector is a fairly standard three-cube unit, 10 per 10 by 30 centimeters. This launch, named Spaceflight "SSO-A: SmallSat Express," is itself evidence of the growth of the sector, marking first of the company's first purchase of Falcon 9, and the mission largest share of US launch vehicle so far. It has accommodation for the location, and CubeSats is the main customer.

The museum built to build the satellite (in fact, is satellites – there is one same backup unit) and it's supposed to give an orbit to appear like a lot of money, but spend time with people who have devoted their lives to build satellites and you will come away thinking it's a bargain.

"The industry is evolving," said Oboodiyat. "Instead of hundreds of millions of dollars, you can suddenly spend a million or 2 million on a little CubeSat and run experiments and learn the same thing."

SpaceX, set up in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk, has emerged as the main private space transport company, and today marks the launch of the 64th Falcon 9 to the company since the rocket will be debated in 2010. But SpaceX is not the only player in an industry that has seen huge growth over the past decade in both external investments and the number of launches, especially since non-government launches have pick up

It is estimated that 120 venture capital companies have invested almost $ 4 billion in private space companies last year, and this year has already seen 72 orbital launches. Addressing this market and steering clients to a space is where companies like Spaceflight Industries are coming in.

"We're a facilitator to get people on an orbit," said Curt Blake, Spaceflight CEO. And as the barrier to enter goes on, he said, they've seen "a crew of satellites with different ambitions where you say," That is quite incredible that people are even in think about that. & # 39; " This launch will include satellite studying the clarity of seawater as a measure of the health of the sea, and another experiencing the effects of different levels of gravity on algae.

Satellite construction and launching could be more achievable than used, but this project represented a unique set of technical and aesthetic challenges, starting with its scale. Most CubeSats start small and remain relatively small. This one needed to quote a 100ft tail.

The balloon was partly in what led to Global Western, as the company had previous experience with balloons through a project that they made for a high-high French parachute. Paglen's initial nations were thrown out early. "That's a very effective shape to make the most of your surface area," he said, "but that also means that she tends to drag. A very efficient shape in order to wait for a long time. "

Efficiency-wise, a cylindrical balloon that sat behind the satellite body was considered the best bet, but the settlement, to the eye of Paglen, looked a bit too angry. He dropped a larger diamond face-shaped version, which looks almost like a sword blade.

The best possible shape of the reflector was to start a list of problems to solve and answer questions, issues that appeared multiple by day. What would the balloon do? How would it zoom? What would be the communication connection? How much battery life and solar charging could you pack into a so small unit? How would you fit in each of the other components and still have a place for the balloon? What would be the mechanism for opening the door to release the balloon? Where would the cliff locate? How would you avoid hitting other satellites with the balloon? How would the balloon respond to solar radiation? How much drag would the balloon create, and how quickly would the drag cause it to rest?

Paglen with "Prototype for Non-Satellite Satellite (Design 4; Construction 4)," 2013, mixed media, 16 x 16 x 16ft.

Grateful to Altman Siegel Gallery and Metro Pictures

But engineers love to solve problems, and in each case, they tried to find the simplest, most missed solutions, building in segregated backup systems where possible. The communication connection via radio ham, the unit is captured by a spectrum, and all the balloon – thanks to the space atmosphere, with external air pressure near zero – swelling through the medium Simple small CO2 cartridge The resulting satellite is a very small exercise in elegant simplicity, perhaps to build from a few different components, many of which are available off the rack.

She was the first Global Western CubeSat Project, but they seemed to have enjoyed the challenge. "When Mark got up with this project, I did not reply immediately," said Snyder. "I wanted to make sure that it was something we could do." He was proud of the result, and the relative simplicity of the process. "Adeiladais y lloeren hon," he said, hitting the box. "It has solar power and lithium batteries and computers." He could say a new era for the space windows.

"Everyone does not build satellites in their garages," said Oboodiyat.

"Everyone should!" Snyder said.

Paglen spent once A magnified week in the Las Vegas hotel room with a view to the airport, tracking quotes and coming from airplane that leads to distribution sites in the desert. So the revelation that he likes to reach the airport early for domestic flight – very early, as two and a half hours – makes me think she may have some secret agenda there. No, he says. "I do not like the stress of it."

And so with the tests still underway, Paglen leaves, the documentation crew is behind it. Tell truth, there is not much for us to do there. The machine is still vibrating, the plotter is still preparing, the engineers keep track, and ultimately Larry gives a gap up. The machine gives it the best, and the team collects around to look at the results.

"This is good news," said Caviezel. "No big spices or variations. Very stable."

Snyder and Oboodiyat agree. Larry nodes and then turns out one 8 inch disk for another.

During breaks in the tests, I spend a lot of time with my 6 inch face of the aluminum box, trying inside peers to make the satellite give some of the & # 39; to secrets. I can see its origins made by hand in the screws and the string where it would open and the solar panels are attached to the outside. At the same time the project is complex beyond a civilized and straightforward understanding: a small box with a balloon and a whippet cartoon that is far removed and swollen.

Paglen art project will be one dozens of CubeSats called the Falcon 9-Uberpool rocket to space.

Grateful to the artist and the Nevada Museum of Art

But while physically small, the scope of the potential effect and the size of the canvas is great. "Orbital Reflector … sets Paglen in the tradition of earth artists such as Christ and Michael Heizer," writes Jacob, the curator Smithsonian. Instead of massive ground land art on the planet, it's almost its own planet. "A satellite that does not have an information gathering function becomes an artificial star, a reflective object of pure love and wonder."

The Orbital Reflector passed all his tests that day, taking an important step on his path to launch and thank the men who did. By the end of the day, team discussions had turned wistful.

"You probably have a child, you're investing in the time into it, and then put him off," said Oboodiyat. "Every time I build a satellite, I'll feel like that, that's a blank. And then you'll find the next project, and you'll start over again. "This project, however, was a little different, and had linked to a sense of higher purpose. "It's just pure art," he said. "It's not different. You can see who you are, and it's light of hope. It helps people to come a bit more curious."

In the months following the tests, minor problems were resolved and resolved, and all other necessary tests were passed. Since the end of the summer, both the team and the satellite have been ready to launch. The blastoff, scheduled for July, was suspended by SpaceX and then deferred again. Only last week, as Paglen and a team on the road to Vandenberg for the attack that were scheduled in November, they found him that it would be deferred again. A week later, reports of poor weather resulted in another deferral.

In October, the satellite traveled to Spaceflight headquarters in Auburn, Washington, for the "integration" process, where it was filled in its slot on the launch unit that will sit on top of the rocket. From that point, it was outside the hands of the Orbital Regeneration team.

(In an unexpected plot cut, published in mid-November, there will be another CubeSat-as-art project at the same launch. The Artist Tavares Strachan joined the LACMA Art + Technology Laboratory, sponsored by SpaceX , to produce Enoch, there was work to honor the memory of Robert Henry Lawrence Jr, the first American American astrons, who died in training in 1967, by releasing a sizeable CubeSat gold sculpture, including a bust.

The only other event that happened late in the last summer, when servers and bloggers motivated arguments by complaining that the campaign was corrupted, sending more litter to space. In one typical complaint, Mark McCaughrean, a senior adviser for science and inquiry at the European Space Agency, said "adding another satellite does not bring anything beyond what the number is pwrpasol mewn orbit yn ei hoffi eisoes. Neu y nifer o ffenomenau naturiol sydd eisoes yn bodoli. Mae'n ddatganiad artistig hollol wag. "

Ar gyfer Paglen, profodd y gwrthwynebiadau mai dim ond cyn-lansio, roedd Orbital Reflector yn llwyddo i ysgogi dialog. Cymerodd y cyfle i ymateb yn grymus gydag erthygl ei hun. O ran y beirniadaeth o roi pethau "diwerth" i'r gofod, ysgrifennodd, "Rwy'n pledio'n euog. Rwy'n credu bod celf gyhoeddus yn beth da. Nid yw 'anhwylderau' celf gyhoeddus yn fy nghyffroi o gwbl. Mewn gwirionedd, mae'n un o'r pethau sy'n ei gwneud yn werth chweil. "

Yn fwy na hynny, mae'n cymryd llawer iawn o ddallineb bwriadol i gael mwy o berygl gan un lloeren bychan a fydd yn para am ddau fis na'r amcangyfrif o 2,000 o loerennau a hanner miliwn o ddarnau o sothach gofod sydd eisoes yn arnofio mewn orbit, a'r militaroli parhaus a chynyddol sy'n cynyddu o ofod. Mae'r prosiect, y mae'n ysgrifennu, yn anelu at "ddod â rhywfaint o ymwybyddiaeth o sut y mae llewyrod a chorfforaethau'r byd wedi dod o hyd i ofod dwys dan bwysau."

Mae ei ddadl yn fy atgoffa i gael rhan o'n sgwrs yn West Covina. "Rydw i wedi dweud hyn drosodd, ond nid oes yna beth o'r fath â rhaglen gofod sifil a ni fydd byth," meddai Paglen. "Hanes rhyfel niwclear yw hanes goleuo'r gofod. Ni ddatblygwyd ICBMs i roi pobl ar y lleuad. Fe'u datblygwyd i chwythu'r blaned. "

Mae lloeren Paglen yn debygol o fynd ar daith i le ar y cyd â lloerennau milwrol a sbardun gwirioneddol yn realiti anochel, fel y ffaith mai Vandenberg fu'r safle lansio dewisol ers tro ers lloerennau ysbïol. Mewn gwirionedd, ymwelodd Paglen â Vandenberg am Spotiau Gwag ar y Map, gan ysgrifennu ei fod am weld cau "y porth i'r nefoedd" y byd cudd-wybodaeth, "y cymeriad tywyll i'r lansiadau heulog o Cape Canaveral," sylfaen milwrol bron yn gwbl ymroddedig i brosiectau du. "

Such overlaps only sharpen the project’s implicit critique: The only way to get to space, even within the framework of the newly commercialized space industry, is with a little help from the military.

And so on Saturday, if all goes to plan, the Falcon 9 will fire up on the launch pad at Vandenberg and head skyward on a southerly course, traversing open ocean toward Antarctica on its way to orbit. Paglen and the engineers will be there, and the museum has sponsored a watch party at a nearby park with a clear view of the launch.

About an hour and a half after launch, the Spaceflight launch vehicle will detach from the rocket and, over the next five to six hours, will deploy its payload, starting with the 15 larger microsats, followed by its 49 CubeSats, Orbital Reflector among them.

The door holding Orbital Reflector in its pod will open, and a spring at the bottom will eject it into space. Roughly 10 hours later, a ham-radio signal will trigger the melting of the spectra cord holding the unit closed. The box will hinge open, another radio signal will trigger the compressed CO2 cartridge, and the diamond-shaped balloon will trail out behind the satellite body and inflate to its full 100-foot length.

Within 24 hours, the team will have tracking information from Norad, and within another day or two we will all be able to look at the project website or the Starwalk 2 app on our phones, then up at the sky, and see Paglen’s latest provocation tracing its course across the firmament for all the world to see.

And then, perhaps two months from now, it will be gone. A normal CubeSat deployed in similar orbit might stay aloft for 20 years, but the rapid orbital decay caused by the added drag of the balloon means that the Orbital Reflector will lose altitude with each successive orbit—it'll circle the globe every 90 minutes or so—eventually burning up when it re-enters the atmosphere.

Of course, even the two months estimate is more of an educated guess; even assuming a perfect launch, there are a lot of variables that could still impact things, from solar radiation to balloon inflation direction to unforeseen drag to communication issues.

“It’s essentially a chaotic system,” Paglen tells me. “You can’t exactly predict what it’s going to do.” But that’s space. It’s also art.


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