In space, nothing frivolous is tolerated. There’s plenty of beauty in the abyss of the universe, but relatively little of it is human-made. We build habitats, rocket ships, and satellites that can be beautiful in their own utilitarian ways, and we gain a lot of inspiration from what these devices see for us: Distant stars, awesome nebulas, our own home world. But art, made by humans, and actually installed in space? It’s not a thing. These is no space-based art world.
American artist Trevor Paglen hopes to change that next year. With Orbital Reflector, he’s planning to launch a sculpture into low-earth orbit, for terrestrial viewers to watch and track with an app. It’s a useless satellite, serving no purpose beyond the aesthetic.
It looks like a giant lawn dart or a hiltless sword flinging through space. The original prototype shape was a sphere, but he and his team redesigned the satellite to be a 100-foot-long stretched-out diamond shape for maximum reflective surface area, so it will be visible in the night sky with the naked eye from Earth. Around April 2018, it’ll be folded into a brick-sized package and packed into a CubeSat, which will be strapped to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, blasted beyond the atmosphere, and then released to orbit roughly 350 miles above the surface of the Earth.