“Illumination satellites” which will shine in tandem with the real moon but are eight times brighter are developed in Chengdu, a city in southwestern Sichuan province, in a project of Tian Fu New Area Science Society. Other universities and institutes, including the Harbin Institute of Technology and China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, are involved in developing Chengdu’s illumination satellites. Though the human-made moon will light up only Chengdu, the glowing ball will be visible across China and even overseas. The first man-made moon will launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, with three more to follow in 2022 if the first test goes well. By reflecting light from the sun, the satellites could replace streetlamps in urban areas, saving an estimated 1.2bn yuan ($170m) a year in electricity costs for Chengdu, if the man-made moons illuminate an area of 50 square kilometers.
China is not the first country to try beaming sunlight back to Earth. In the 1990s, Russian scientists reportedly used giant mirrors to reflect light from space in an experimental project called Znamya or Banner. There are some questions and objections regarding such projects. Research has shown that many animals are highly sensitive to the light and phases of the moon. The size and illumination technology of Chengdu’s artificial moon are not yet available, so it remains unclear if the brightness of the proposed artificial satellite would indeed be intense enough to interfere with the routines of local wildlife.