When a space launch 9-rocket launches Saturday from Vandenberg's Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, California, its payload will contain 64 small satellites from 34 organizations and 17 countries. Everyone has paid launchers Spaceflight Industries a huge fee to be blown 350 miles up and released into a soil around the world. Most of these satellites are intended to perform any useful purpose, whether it is communication, observation or science. But there is a small satellite among those who aim to do nothing but attract people around the world to assume a primary atavist call: to look up at the night sky and wonder what's out there. It's April, and the satellite creator, Trevor Paglen, is sitting in the lobby of a Hampton Inn in West Covina, California, 20 miles east of LA, explaining the motivation behind the project he calls Orbital Reflector. "The point for me really was to create a kind of catalyst to look at the sky and think of everything from planets to satellites to spacecrack to the public space and ask," What does it mean to be on this planet? "Says Paglen, who has come to California to witness some crucial prelude testimony on his creation. "It's a timeless question in some way, but the content of the question always changes." The paglet has described the project, conducted in collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, as "the first satellite to exist only as an artistic gesture. "As a guest, it's not…
When a space launch 9-rocket launches Saturday from Vandenberg’s Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, California, its payload will contain 64 small satellites from 34 organizations and 17 countries. Everyone has paid launchers Spaceflight Industries a huge fee to be blown 350 miles up and released into a soil around the world.
Most of these satellites are intended to perform any useful purpose, whether it is communication, observation or science. But there is a small satellite among those who aim to do nothing but attract people around the world to assume a primary atavist call: to look up at the night sky and wonder what’s out there.
It’s April, and the satellite creator, Trevor Paglen, is sitting in the lobby of a Hampton Inn in West Covina, California, 20 miles east of LA, explaining the motivation behind the project he calls Orbital Reflector.
“The point for me really was to create a kind of catalyst to look at the sky and think of everything from planets to satellites to spacecrack to the public space and ask,” What does it mean to be on this planet? “Says Paglen, who has come to California to witness some crucial prelude testimony on his creation. “It’s a timeless question in some way, but the content of the question always changes.”
The paglet has described the project, conducted in collaboration with the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, as “the first satellite to exist only as an artistic gesture. “As a guest, it’s not cheap ̵
1; its $ 1.5 million budget was funded by the museum, private donors and a kickstarter campaign – but it’s certainly true for its name.
Once in circulation will distribute a 100 foot long 5 foot wide high density polyethylene coated titanium dioxide powder that will reflect the light back to earth, making it visible to the naked eye like a star in Big Dipper, a work of public art trimming overnight, visible to anyone who looks into a clear sky at the right time and trackable through the project’s website and a partnership with the Starwalk 2 app.
“The goal has been to build this out as it is exactly the opposite of everyone else’s satellite,” says Paglen, who has a long history of art projects charting the dark world of state surveillance. Where other satellites can spy or photograph or measure, his will is faithful, whimsical useless. stay in the air for at least two months and then burn in the atmosphere upon re-entry. “It’s a way to make an artwork that exists and think of the scale of the planet.”
The Peripathetic Pagel has just flown in from Berlin, where his studio is based, but there, as his career and travel plan has accelerated, he spends less time. He has his regular uniform in white T-shirt, dark jeans and boots. A pair of sunglasses sunglasses are sitting on the table next to the phone and a bottle of Cherry Coke Zero.
The development of the orbital reflector has been a long and complicated process, one of which the Pagel has been juggling among other projects and collaborations and museums and lectures.
The 44-year-old artist strikes his mid-career battle in a full sprint-he won a Macarthur Foundation “Genius” supplement last year and the Nam June Paik Art Center Prize this year and he has a great retrospective at the moment at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in DC. The pagon has emerged as one of the most prominent and relevant provocators of our heavy age, a producer of early and often technically infected work, much of which has focused on the security state and the increasingly picturesque concept of integrity.
He has a doctoral student in geography from Berkeley and pioneered a field he calls “experimental geography”, examines the spatial consequences of these invisible worlds with the goal of making us finally see them. He has drawn “empty spots on the map” to photograph secret military bases; He learned to dive so that he could photograph the underwater data cables that were lost in secret; he maps spy satellites and surveillance plans; and he has sent a series of pictures, The Last Pictures in the deep spacecraft in an attempt to create a monument that can surpass our planet.
Orbital Reflector is a logical expansion of the questions Paglen has asked, with increasing scope and complexity, for two decades. It is also an early invitation for all of us to look a little closer to the flourishing space industry. And just like the Terrestrial work of the Prayer, the viewers try to see the physical shape of the hidden world around them. His movement to alien space is intended to pay attention to how the sky is increasingly penetrated by human best and worst intentions and the unintended consequences that accompany them .
The paglet wants you to know that for every Hubble telescope looking outward in the galaxies beyond ours, there are dozens of satellites whose electronic eyes are trained on Earth itself – monitoring, sending, sending and viewing.
Space, in other words, is not benign. One of the other payloads launches on the same rocket, he is sure to note, “basically is a commercial spy satellite. They would not call it so, but that’s what it is.”
It goes close noon and other members of the Orbital Reflector team start collecting in the lobby before going to a nearby restaurant. Amanda Horn, Communications Director of the Nevada Museum of Art, who played a crucial role in addressing every aspect of the project, comes in and seated next to us. “I want to introduce you to Zia,” she says to me, “and you can ask him about some of the technical aspects since we have some time now.”
“Perfect,” says Paglen. “We talked about drag coefficients and the consequences for balloon design.”
If Horn is responsible for keeping this train on track, engineer Zia Oboodiyat, project manager and veteran in a lifetime host of satellite launches, is committed to making sure it’s running. A gregarious man who fled Iran as a boy, the semiretired Oboodiyat met Paglen 2011 during the work of his Last Pictures project. He writes poetry and has a philosophically bent, and when we rehearse different questions about the complications and potential difficulties in the launch, he seems to be at peace.
Artist’s Artes and Art Museum in Nevada
“As much as possible, we predict the risks and test them and simulate the conditions that the satellite will face. That’s what the test tomorrow is for: simulating the dynamic forces in launch conditions, Oboodiyat says. “We have done our analysis, we have checked our assumptions but there is a risk of all space programs.”
Horn handles him an envelope, and he draws four pieces as the Pagel and the museum has done as part of the project. The pagan has long had an ethnograph’s interest in the culture surrounding this secret world and has collected the patches ordered by various top secret government programs and agencies, typically with snakes or skull or an octopus.
His tongue-in-kind versions for Orbital Reflector is cartoonish, with mottos that mostly seems like joking about tedium in the process of building your own satellite: “Orbital Reflector Logistics / In space nobody can hear you complain “; “Reno, we have a problem / #NotMyProblem”; “Ad Astra Per Cartam” (“To The Stars Through Paperwork”). Oboodiyat picks up a blue circular patch with embroidered image of a smiling blond man and reads the pink letters over the top.
“The room is difficult?” He reads, laughs first. “Space is hard.”
Mark Caviezel, a half of the engineering duo from Global Western, the company that built Orbital Reflector, opens a black pelican attack to reveal a shiny aluminum rectangle about the size of a large breadbread. “Okay, Trevor, it’s your bird,” he says, dragging it out with a delicate flowering. “It’s your plane.”
It’s 8 o’clock the next morning, and we’re in a nondescript industrial park in Covina at the nondescriptly named Consolidated Laboratories. Walking through its rolling door feels like entering a time spread, a cavernous space that was half a store and a half storage for computer tower and machines that look like they have been there since the 1970s.
The term “space age” tends to highlight certain perceptions of smooth futurism, but we forget that the first age of space and all its investment in the Cold War era occurred half a century ago. The epoch’s space industry drives huge fluctuations in Southern California’s economy, largely on the back of military and defense costs at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and an ambitious constellation of private entrepreneurs like Hughes, based in nearby Fullerton. Some of the US-created machines, including the computers that run them, were built to remain and are still being used for tests like these.
“It reminds me of the day I started working in this industry,” said Oboodiyat as one of the technicians inserting an 8-inch diskette and starting to launch an archaic-looking machine connected to a wardrobe device labeled “5427A Vibration Control System . ” “Many of these things really belong to Smithsonian.”  The futuristic cube – the actual satellite sits inside the anodized aluminum case, which replicates the exact size of its pod on the launcher – is the only shining thing among all the relatives. But even if it looks out of its place, it’s perfect sense. The plant is still very operational and is just the kind of place that the Pagel has spent years looking for and rewriting, a node of the defense industry’s complex that hides in plain sight, just disguised by its banality.
Caviezel seems to confirm this suspicion. “Most people who come here-Lockheed, Boeing-the last thing they want is that people know they had been here.”
Spring group, which includes the global western team of three Oboodiyat, Horn, a cameraman from the museum, a documentary crew from Australia, and I seem to haunt our hosts a little.
“I’m usually here alone,” says Larry, technician driving tested “so this is a bit unusual. “Oboodiyat tries to explain the project to him:” It’s art, that’s science, it’s both. It’s unique. “
Caviezel warned me earlier that the so-called shake vibe test that the device would undergo would not be the most exciting: the satellite unit would be bolted to a metal plate attached to an electrodynamic shaker that would send high-frequency vibration through it to simulate the difficulty of launching, only more violently. “It’s not much action, so I hope you will not be disappointed. The most exciting thing is to attach and remove the device,” to allow the same test to run along the x, y and z axes.
When I see the techniques attaching the satellite network to the platform with parallel aluminum brackets bolted to the bottom plate, “exciting” is not the word that will be thought of. The shaker himself looks like a cement mixer attached to a welding table. “This is a later model for us; it was probably built in the 80’s,” says Larry when I ask. “These things last for many years.”
Sitting in a nearby table, the Pagon answers questions for the documentary crew and controls its phone. He has a flight to catch a talent commitment at Berkeley, and he is worried about going to the airport. As much as he wants to stay and observe, things move slowly, and they have said “five minutes” for about an hour “
” Hello Trevor, do not let Larry say we’re good at going, “says Gary Snyder, the other half of the global western team.
” This first part will not be very impressive ” “says Larry.” It’s pretty quiet. “Then he happens earplugs and all eyes turn to the small silver box. The machine turns on the sound of a semi-trailer that is badly in need of a tune-up, but otherwise, as promised, nothing seems much.  It has been a long journey to this point for the Pagel, No matter how anti-climatic it seemed to see a metal cube vibrated at frequencies beyond what the human eye can detect. His father was an Air Force ophthalmologist and the family lived in Maryland, Texas and California before settling in the airport in Wiesbaden, Germany, when Trevor was in junior high.
He returned to the states of college in Berkeley, where he studied religion and music and became involved in prison activism, which led to a series of sound recordings made in various prisons using a hidden microphone. In its exposure to a hidden world, the project was a prelude to things that would come.
Paglen went to an MFA at the Art Institute of Chicago before joining a graduate graduate in Berkeley, where the story goes, he was porking over USGS aerial photos, looking for prisons when he stumbled upon massively edited areas that denote secret military sites. He first visited Nevada’s 51-year-old in 2003, which showed the starting point for an investigation that became his dissertation and finally the book Blank Spots on the Map where the Pagel charts geography’s secret, the physical presence of the “secret state in a state “.
Right of the Artist and Metro Pictures, New York
“Geography Theory says that it really is not possible to get things gone, to do things non-existent, writes Paglen in the book. “Geography tells us that confidentiality, in other words, will always fail.”
Pag’s method, then, as now, was questioning everything. He carefully watched relentlessly, relied on FOIA requests, archive research, interviews with industry sources and terrain aid. Together with the book, he went into deserts and up in the mountains to produce a series of moving landscape images of these darknesses places, some from as far as 60 miles from there. Then he turned on the lens and learned to identify, track and photograph classified spy satellites for a project like heter The Other Night Sky . The results are both surreal and familiar, brand new and yet rotated in our visual culture.
“In The Other Night Sky he responded to the landscapes of landscape photography, a temporal axis calling upon historical precursors including Timothy Sullivan and Ansel Adams,” writes John P. Jacob, McEvoy Family Curator for Photography at Smithsonian, in an essay on Sites Unseen the monograph accompanying Paglen Smithsonian solo show of the same name. Fotona looks up, rather than out, writes Jacob, so that “they have no earthly perspective. They are extremely disorienting.”
Hearing of the Artist and Metro Pictures, New York
It was about the time of the project, in the mid-end of the 21st century, that he began to think of the project that would become Orbital Reflector. In 2008, he started collecting a team to work on the project and in 2013 he released four prototypes for non-functional satellites.
The one who led most directly to the orbital reflector was built around the thought of a mirrored reflective sphere of anti-spy satellite, echoing Russian artist Kazimir Malevich’s 1920 thinking of artificial planets and inverting the normal relationship: we spy on it rather than the reverse. It would record nothing, do nothing, seek no higher purpose than being a short-lived artificial star, which is meant to eventually flare out.
According to the Pagel, the fly-edition of “art for the sake of art” was an attempt to see “what space technology would look if its methods were disconnected from the company’s and military interests behind the industry.” Or as he reformulated it in a 2015 lecture on Smithsonian: “Can you build a satellite that is not a weapon? Can you build a satellite that had no commercial, scientific or military function at all? Can you build a satellite just because you wanted to build one because you thought it would be beautiful? “
It turns out you can, but it’s not easy. In 2015, Paglen found a partner for the project at the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art. “Nevada Museum of Art has been exceptionally gentle and creative when it comes to thinking about how to do such a project and developing an interesting program around it,” says Paglen. They were, he says, also courageous to take it everywhere, considering failures. “It’s really a very risky project for an institution to do,” he says.
From the museum’s perspective, there was a project and an artist who fits his mission. “We are very focused on art and the environment in the west, where the built and natural world is cut and we have a large archive of country art,” Horn says during one of our first discussions about the project. “For us, this is basically a market in the sky. “
Horn spat up the collection and helped the shepherd with many of the logistical details, became an expert on the paperwork that seems to be the real fuel of the space flight.” I’m not sure any other art museum would have taken on this ” “she said.” But at least we like to take risk management. “
Together, they gathered the budget and engineering group from Oboodiyat and tried to take advantage of the rapid development of the commercial space sector, which has made satellite launches affordable after a fashion, especially for the two smallest categories: microsatellites and nanosatellites.
In the latter category, which is characterized as a satellite that weighs llan 1 and 10 kg, the industry has compiled around the so-called CubeSat Standard, a format originally introduced with academic research projects in mind but now deployed for a variety of uses. (Earlier this week, two CubeSats played a crucial communication support role for NASA in the InSight farmer’s successful touchdown on Mars. They followed the landlord to the red planet and became the first CubeSats that went beyond the earth’s soil and sent back some remarkable images.)
CubeSat format takes a 10-centimeter cube as its basic unit, and Orbital Reflector is a fairly standard three-cube unit, 10 out of 10 by 30 centimeters. This launch, which Spaceflight has called “SSO-A: SmallSat Express”, is evidence of the industry’s growth, marking the company’s first purchase of a full payload of a Falcon 9 and the largest driving party mission from a US launch vehicle so far. It is a Uberpool that holds, and CubeSats is the primary customer.
The $ 1.5 million raised by the museum to build the satellite (actually, satellites – there is an identical backup device) and put it in circulation seems like a lot of money, but spend some time with people who have devoted their lives to build satellites and you will get away and think it’s a bargain.
“The industry is developing,” says Oboodiyat. “Instead of hundreds of millions of dollars, you can suddenly spend a million or 2 million on a small CubeSat and run experiments and learn the same thing.”
SpaceX, founded 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk, has emerged as the leading private space carrier and today marks the 64th Falcon 9 launch for the company since the rocket debuted in 2010. But SpaceX is hardly the only player in an industry that has seen strong growth over the past decade, both in external investment and the number of launches, especially when non-governmental launches have risen.
It is estimated that 120 venture capital companies invested nearly $ 4 billion in private space companies last year, and this year has already seen 72 orbit launches. Navigating on this marketplace and guiding customers to space is where companies like Spaceflight Industries come in.
“We’re really a facilitator for getting people in circulation,” said Curt Blake, CEO of Aeronautics. And as the barrier to entry has become lower, he says that they have seen “a whole lot of satellites with different ambitions where you say,” It’s quite amazing that people even thought about it. “” This launch will include a satellite that will study clarity in sea water as a measure of marine health, and another test the effects of different gravitational degrees on algae.
Building and launching a satellite can be more achievable than it used to be, but this project represented a unique set of both technical and aesthetic challenges, starting with its scale. Most CubeSats start small and remain relatively small. This needed to spit a 100 foot tail.
The balloon was partly what led them to Global Western, as the company had previous experience of balloons through a project they did for a French high altitude parachutist. The original sphere concept was thrown early. “It’s a very effective form to maximize the surface,” he says, but it also means that it is very susceptible to pull. So it’s not a very effective form when it comes to staying up for a very long time. “
Effectively showed a cylindrical balloon behind the satellite body to be the best bet, but the setting looked at Paglen’s eye, a bit too foolish. He outlined a faceted, more diamond-shaped version that almost looks like a sword’s magazine. 19659002] The optimum form of the reflector was just the beginning of a list of problems that would be solved and questions that were answered, it seemed to propagate with the day. What would the balloon be like? How would it blow? What would the communication link be? How much battery life and solar charging capacity, can you pack into such a small device? How would you fit into all other components and still fit the balloon? What would the mechanism be to open the door to release the balloon? Where would the hinge be located? How would the hinge be? Do you avoid killing other satellites with the balloon? How would the balloon react to solar radiation? How much would the balloon make, and how would it soon be the case that it would fall out of circulation?
Hearing of Altman Siegel Gallery and Metro Pictures
But engineers love to solve problems, and in any case, they sought the simplest, most flawless solutions and built in unnecessary backup systems wherever possible. The communication link is via the dock radio, the device is held closed by the spectrum cable, and the entire balloon – thanks to the atmosphere in space, with outer air pressure close to zero – will blow up via a simple small CO 2 ] cartridge. The resulting satellite is a small exercise in elegant simplicity, built of maybe a hundred different components, many of which are available from the racket.
It was Global Western’s first CubeSat project, but they seem to have had the challenge. “When Mark called me up with this project, I did not respond immediately,” Snyder says. “I wanted to make sure there was something I could do.” He was pleased with the result and the relative simplicity of the process. “I built this satellite,” he says, knocking on the box. “It has solar power and lithium batteries and computers.” It could be said that it was a new era of spacecraft.
“Not everyone is building satellites in their garages,” says Oboodiyat.
“Everyone should!” Snyder says.
The week spent a week in a Las Vegas Las Vegas hotel once a week with an airport view that tracked the arrival and travel of aircraft to an increased location in the desert. So the revelation he likes to get to the airport early for a domestic flight – really early, like two and a half hours – makes me think he might have a secret agenda there. No, he says. “I just do not like the stress.”
And with the tests still in progress, the Pagel leaves the documentary crew that lies behind him. Truth is told, there is not much for any of us to do it. The machine is about to vibrate, the plotter is plotting, the engineers continue to look, and eventually Larry gives the thumbs up. The machine ends, and the team is gathering around to see the results.
“This is good news,” says Caviezel. “No big nails or deviations. Very stable.”
Snyder and Oboodiyat agree. Larry nods and then replaces an 8-inch floppy for another.
During the breaks in the test, I spend a lot of time with my face 6 inches from the aluminum box, trying to peer inside to make the satellite give up some of its secrets. I can see its handmade origin in the screws and hinge where it would open and the solar panels will be attached to the outside. The project is at the same time complicated beyond the civilian understanding and alarmingly simple: a small box with a balloon and a remote controlled whippet cartridge to blow it up.
Artist’s courtesy and art museum in Nevada
But although physically small, the scope of potential impact and size of the screen is high. “Orbital Reflector … places the Pagel in the tradition of Earthists like Christo and Michael Heizer,” writes Jacob, Smithsonian curator. Instead of massive land art on the planet, it’s almost its own planet. “A satellite that has no intelligence collection function becomes an artificial star, a reflective object of pure joy and wonders.”
The Orbital Reflector passed all his tests that day and took an important step on his way to starting and pleasing the men who did. By the end of the day, the team’s discussions had won.
“It’s as if you have a child, you’re constantly investing in it, and then just giving him away,” says Oboodiyat. “Every time I build a satellite, I feel the void. And then you’ll find the next project, and you’ll start over.” However, this project was a bit different, and he was linked to his sense of higher purpose. “It’s just pure art,” he says. “It does not discriminate. You can see it no matter who you are, and it’s a hope of hope. It helps people get a little more curious.”
In the months after the test, other minor issues addressed and resolved and all other necessary tests were passed. Then the senator has made and the satellite has been ready for launch. The blastoff, originally planned for July, was shot by SpaceX and then postponed. Just last week, when the Pagel and his team were on their way to Vandenberg for the planned November 19 start, they received a word that it would be postponed again. A week later reports of bad weather led to another launch.
In October, the satellite traveled to Spaceflight’s headquarters in Auburn, Washington, for the “integration process”, where it was packed into its location at the launcher that will be on top of the rocket. From that time it was out of the hands of the Orbital Reflector team.
(In an unpredictable plot twist just announced in mid-November, there will be another CubeSat-as-art project on the same launch. Artist Tavares Strachan collaborated with LACMA’s Art + Technology lab sponsored by SpaceX, producing Enoch A work intended to commemorate the memory of Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., the first African American astronaut, who died in training in 1967, by releasing a CubeSat-sized sculpture with a bust of his likeness. 19659002] The only second hiccup occurred late last summer when some astronomers and bloggers broke up a controversy by complaining that the project was an exercise in pollutants, just sending more litter to space. In a typical complaint, Mark McCaughrean, Senior Counselor for Science and Exploration at the European Space Agency, tweeted that “adding another satellite like this gives nothing but what the many target members in circulation look like. Or the many natural phenomena already present där för att hysa. Det är ett helt tomt konstnärligt uttalande. “
För Paglen visade anmärkningarna bara att, även före lanseringen, lyckades Orbital Reflector i provocerande dialog. Han utnyttjade möjligheten att reagera kraftfullt med en egen artikel. På kritiken att sätta “värdelösa” saker i rymden skrev han: “Jag åberopar mig skyldig. Jag tycker att offentlig konst är en bra sak. Den “värdelöshet” av offentlig konst stör mig inte alls. Det är faktiskt en av de saker som gör det värt. “
Dessutom tar det en enorm mängd av viljanlig blindhet att bli mer besviken av en liten satellit som kommer att vara två månader än de uppskattade 2.000 satelliterna och en halv miljon bitar av utrymme skräp som redan flyter i omlopp, och den pågående och ständigt eskalerande militariseringen av rymden. The project, he writes, aims to “bring some awareness about how profoundly compromised space has become by the world’s militaries and corporations.”
His argument reminds me of a part of our conversation in West Covina. “I’ve said this over and over, but there is no such thing as a civilian space program and never will be,” Paglen told me. “The history of spaceflight is a history of nuclear war. ICBMs were not developed to put people on the moon. They were developed to blow up the planet.”
That Paglen’s satellite is likely hitching a ride to space alongside actual military and spy satellites is an unavoidable reality, as is the fact that Vandenberg has long been the preferred launch site for spy satellites. In fact, Paglen visited Vandenberg for Blank Spots on the Mapwriting that he wanted to see up close the intelligence world’s “gateway to the heavens,” the dark counterpart to the sunny launches from Cape Canaveral, “a military base almost entirely dedicated to black projects.”
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.