Art is about taking risks. Join us as we become the first artist-museum team to launch a sculptural satellite into space.
A couple of years ago, contemporary artist Trevor Paglen approached the Nevada Museum of Art with a bold idea: launch the first satellite into space that would exist purely as an artistic gesture. The Museum knew that his radical vision -- Orbital Reflector -- could help to change the way we see our place in the world. 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.
Why does it matter?
Art gives us a reason -- gives us permission -- to look at something deeply. An artwork that pushes the boundaries of what we traditionally think of as "art" challenges the way we engage with the world. Orbital Reflector encourages all of us to look up at the night sky with a renewed sense of wonder, to consider our place in the universe, and to re-imagine how we live together on this planet. It prompts us to ask the big questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? What are we doing to the shared world in which we live?
How will it work?
Orbital Reflector is packed inside of a small (3U) satellite called a CubeSat that will be launched into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, anticipated for early 2018. Once in low Earth orbit, at approximately 350 miles (575 km) from Earth's surface, a 100-foot-long diamond-shaped balloon will deploy from the CubeSat. The balloon will reflect sunlight back to Earth, making the satellite visible to the naked eye. It will remain in space for approximately two months.
How can I find it?
We are partnering with the sky-watching app Star Walk 2 to ping you when Orbital Reflector passes your location (it will orbit the planet several times a day). You can also see the satellite's flight data from our website, orbitalreflector.com.
Why a diamond shape?
Orbital Reflector is a neo-minimalist sculpture, inspired by an alternative history of spaceflight that includes early Russian avant-gardists and forgotten NASA experiments. It is a work of aerospace engineering for aerospace engineering's sake.
The design has shifted from a sphere to a diamond throughout the course of development. Once we started working with aerospace engineers to build a flight-worthy spacecraft, physics played a pivotal role. The diamond shape Paglen created will be bigger, brighter, and better in flight than a sphere.
About Trevor Paglen
Trevor Paglen is an American artist whose work deliberately blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism, geography, and other disciplines to construct unfamiliar yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world. Best known for his documentation and critique of surveillance in the twenty-ﬁrst century, his current work with artificial intelligence and machine vision -- and his push into outer space -- is redefining the future of art practice.
The artist has long contemplated and engaged with the history and geography of satellites -- and the politics surrounding them. He has spent significant time photographing classified satellites and other objects in orbit.
In 2012, Paglen launched The Last Pictures, an ultra-archival disc of human history told through one-hundred images the artist curated. The disc is mounted to a communications satellite that is in geosynchronous orbit as we speak. While working on The Last Pictures with MIT scientists, Paglen imagined building his own satellite, one with no other function or purpose beyond being the art object itself.
Trevor Paglen’s work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Whitney Museum of American Art; Berkeley Art Museum; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Nevada Museum of Art.
About the Nevada Museum of Art
The Nevada Museum of Art is not your typical art museum. While we organize exhibitions and have a permanent collection like many museums, we also work directly with living artists to push contemporary art in new directions. Remember Ugo Rondinone's Seven Magic Mountains? That was us, in partnership with our friends at Art Production Fund.
The Nevada Museum of Art is the only art museum in Nevada accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). It is a private, non-profit institution founded in 1931.
The Museum's Center for Art + Environment is an internationally-recognized research center dedicated to supporting the practice, study, and awareness of creative interactions between people and their environments. The Center houses unique archive materials from more than 1,000 artists working on all seven continents, including Cape Farewell, Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria, Lita Albuquerque, Burning Man, Center for Land Interpretation, and Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains. The Center will also house the official project archive for Orbital Reflector. A portion of that archive will be on display as an interpretive-center style exhibition when the satellite launches into space.
How can I help?
Aerospace is kind of pricey. Rocket rides aren't cheap, and neither is high-tech precision engineering. This art project requires both. The overall project budget is $1.3 million. We have already raised approximately 60% of the funds, and you can help us close the gap.
The goal we have set on Kickstarter is the minimum amount of money we need to pay this year to ensure we have a ticket to launch. The more we raise on Kickstarter, the easier time we will have putting the finishing touches on satellite construction, shipping the spacecraft to the launch site, and lifting off into space.
There are many steps involved in constructing the satellite, and over the course of this campaign, we will share "behind-the-scenes" photos and videos detailing the process.
As we progress through the campaign, we will update you with photos of the official patches - they are in production now!
As of September 18, four of the five patches are complete. Here is a collage of the artist-designed collectors' items:
Risks and challenges
Nevada is situated in North America’s largest deserts. The state has seen atomic tests, military installations, and large-scale mining operations, but also experimental communities like Burning Man and the largest land-based artworks in the world. This extreme environment is also home to the Nevada Museum of Art. Risk is in our DNA. So it comes as no surprise that artist Trevor Paglen approached the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art to imagine the unimaginable. Together we embark upon an exploration of the most extreme environment of them all: outer space.
This is the first time any artist or museum has attempted to launch a sculpture into space. As we have learned from the aerospace engineers with whom we are engaged, space is inherently risky and challenging. We have taken all available precautions to mitigate those risks, but certain things are beyond our control. The launch date is a moving target and the rocket may fail on the first attempt. However, thanks to launch insurance, we can fly a second time. And, as far as the satellite construction goes, we've planned ahead. We have a backup satellite unit being built as a precaution.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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