The Orbital Reflector, launching in 2018, is the world’s first space sculpture

Artist Trevor Paglen plans to launch “the first satellite to exist purely as an artistic gesture” into low-Earth orbit in 2018. The cosmic creation, called the Orbital Reflector, has no mission at all other than for people to look at it. It’s partially sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art and will be visible from the surface of the Earth. “This is making a piece of abstract art on a rocket. By doing that you encourage people to look at it and think about the heavens,” Paglen told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Paglen is a geographer and artist who was awarded a 2017 MacArthur Foundation fellowship (a “genius grant”) and will have an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution next year. As he notes on his Kickstarter page for the project, “the Orbital Reflector is a satellite that 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.”

The sculpture is created with thin, light, Mylar-like sheets, and it will be sent 350 miles into the heavens on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket aboard a small satellite known as a CubeSat. It’s tentatively scheduled for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base next spring. Once deployed, the Orbital Reflector will inflate and circle the globe once every three hours until it dies a fiery death upon reentry into the atmosphere in approximately two months.

The balloon will reflect light back to Earth, making it visible with the naked eye. Paglen plans to partner with the sky-watching app Star Walk 2 to let observers know when it will be visible in their location. You’ll also be able to track the satellite as it passes overhead from their website at orbitalreflector.com.

The normally staid and analytical scientists working on the project are excited to participate in something so inspirational. “It’s different than anything I’ve ever worked on,” said aerospace engineer Mark Caviezel. “Being artistic, it’s a lot cooler than a lot of satellites, and it’s refreshing that in our uptight kind of way, we can sort of let our hair down on this.”

Paglen’s earlier space project was “The Last Pictures,” a collection of images from Earth launched into orbit in 2012. He said his inspiration for this latest endeavor goes back to Echo 1 and 2, NASA’s earliest communication satellites from the early 1960s launched in response to Sputnik. He hopes the Orbital Reflector causes people to gaze up to the heavens and consider their place in the universe.

“We humans have always looked to the sky as a sounding board for asking big questions about ourselves: Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?”

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robo sidekicks, AC for your bed, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Welcome to the uncanny valley: This robot head shows lifelike expressions

SEER is a robot head that is capable of recognizing the facial expressions of the people that it interacts with, and then mirroring their same expression back at them. Check it out.
Photography

How to take pictures of the Perseid meteor shower and the stars

The night sky can be both one of the trickiest and most rewarding shoots to master. Stop putting your camera away at sunset and learn how to photograph the stars in this tutorial on the night sky.
Emerging Tech

The Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend! Here’s how to watch

Thanks to a new moon, 2018's Perseid Meteor Shower will be much easier to view, with even the dimmest meteors observable by the naked eye. Here's how to see the show this weekend, and where the views will be the best.
Emerging Tech

Los Angeles subway to become first in the U.S. to use body scanners

Los Angeles is set to become the first city in the U.S. to use body scanners on its subway. The machines are portable and quick to set up, and can check around 2,000 people an hour without causing lines or delays for passengers.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Regular Wi-Fi can accurately detect bombs, chemicals, and weapons in bags

Surveillance cameras and bag searches have become commonplace when it comes to security in public venues. But researchers may have found a different way to detect suspicious items: regular Wi-Fi.
Gaming

How to connect a Nintendo Switch controller to your PC

Nintendo's Switch controllers, including the Joy-Cons and the aptly titled Pro Controller, use Bluetooth, which makes them compatible with your PC. Here's how to start using them for PC gaming.
Emerging Tech

Buying on a budget? Here’s all the best tech you can snag for $25 or less

We live in a world where you can get a cheeseburger for $1, a functioning computer for $5, and thousands of HD movies for $10 -- so it stands to reason that you should be able to pick up some pretty sweet gear for $25.
Emerging Tech

Science says waste beer could help us live on Mars

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a new super-insulating gel, created from beer waste, which could one day be used for building greenhouse-like habitats on Mars.
Emerging Tech

Engineers have made a new type of lithium battery that won’t explode

While statistically rare, the lithium-ion batteries used in mobile devices have been known to burst into flames. Researchers from University of Michigan have been working to change that.
Emerging Tech

Genetically engineered bacteria paint microscopic masterpieces

By engineering E. coli bacteria to respond to light, scientists at the University of Rome have guided it like tiny drones toward patterns that depict Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants to dig a tunnel to Dodger Stadium

Elon Musk's Boring Company wants to build a high-speed transportation tunnel connecting Dodger Stadium to a nearby Metro station. The system would run 150-mph passenger pods between the stadium and a terminus to the west.
Emerging Tech

Watch as a ‘lifeguard drone’ rescues a swimmer struggling at sea

These days, drones are finding a range of roles in a myriad of fields. Lifeguards, for example, are making use of the drone's ability to quickly deploy flotation devices while also offering an eye in the sky to survey the scene.