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06.014 Artificial moons


The Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Callaghan
China's artificial moons - and other audacious projects, 24.11.2018
smh.com.au Artificial moons

China's artificial moons - and other audacious projects

You could never accuse China of not thinking big.

In October, it opened the world's longest sea-crossing bridge, linking Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland city of Zhuhai via a 55-kilometre bridge-tunnel system incorporating two man-made islands.

China plans to launch artificial moons into space to reduce the need for city street lights.

In September, it opened the super-sleek West Kowloon railway station in Hong Kong, connecting the semi-autonomous former British colony to China's bullet train network - and no doubt deeper integration into the mainland's ways. These mega projects are part of the government's plan to shift 250 million people - roughly the population of Indonesia - into the country's rapidly growing megalopolises over the next decade (China already has 22 cities bigger than Sydney or Melbourne).

"The Chinese have been doing huge infrastructure projects since building the Great Wall and the Grand Canal," says Mark Pesce, host of The Next Billion Seconds podcast.

But last month's announcement of another audacious project - the launch of three artificial moons into space over the next four years to illuminate cities at night and reduce the need for street lights - has been greeted with some scepticism. The first moon, made of a reflective material that will shine eight times brighter than the real moon on an 80-square-kilometre area over the southwestern city of Chengdu, will be launched in 2020. "How will the orbital mechanics work?" asks Pesce. "How will it maintain a permanent, stationary position? What happens when the mirror degrades, or gets struck by a meteoroid?"

Others have questioned whether the artificial moons might disturb wildlife and plant life, although their developers claim the reflective discs will produce only a harmless, dusk-like glow. While China's centrally planned economy ensures massive infrastructure projects like this not only get the green light but are built at world-beating speed, the environmental costs can be enormous. Already the Three Gorges Dam has led to a decline in local plant, fish and animal populations. The construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge saw local numbers of endangered Chinese white dolphins plummet by 40 per cent.

"The rate of infrastructure development is staggering," says Pesce, who has just returned from a trip to China.



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