The satellite with the sculpture “Orbital Reflector” by Trevor Paglen is no longer to be found in our orbit. The Government Shutdown back in January is probably to blame.
The US artist had “Orbital Reflector” blasted into space last December with a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. If everything went according to plan, then there should open a 30-meter-long, diamond-shaped balloon orbiting us right now. Its surface should also reflect sunlight back to the dark side of the earth and be visible in the night sky without a telescope.
Orbital Reflector is a sculpture constructed of a lightweight material similar to Mylar. It is housed in a small box-like infrastructure known as a CubeSat and launched into space aboard a rocket. Once in low Earth orbit the CubeSat opens and releases the sculpture, which self-inflates like a balloon. Once deployed, the diamond-shaped art object will open out to approximately the size of a basketball court. The interior of the balloon is coated with titanium oxide.
However, the satellite sculpture failed because of the Government Shutdown. The engineers lost contact with the satellite when the Federal Communications Commission (FFC) was shut down during the 35-day budget freeze. Therefore, they missed the time window to open the box with the balloon. It is now known that the satellite can no longer be located. It floats unobserved in space.
At least many astronomers should not have a problem with this outcome. Many had already criticized the “Humanity Star” which then burned up in orbit, all according to plan. From this disco ball they feared disturbances of their observations and spoke of “ecological vandalism”.
Paglen himself did not to see why his satellite among hundreds would be a problem. Even if everything had gone to plan, the sculpture would have entered the atmosphere after a few weeks and burned up. So it would have left no traces anyways.