Nevada Museum Of Art To Send Art Satellite To Space

Sep 26, 2017

The Nevada Museum of Art in Reno is sponsoring a new global project that will send an art satellite into Earth’s orbit. It will be the first satellite sent to space for purely artistic purposes.

Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick went downtown and chatted with museum spokeswoman Amanda Horn to learn more about the project, dubbed Orbital Reflector.

KUNR: Can you tell me about the project?

Horn: We are working with an artist, Trevor Paglen to produce the first-ever sculptural satellite to be launched into outer space. Trevor Paglen has actually launched a satellite into outer space before, but it’s in geosynchronous orbit.

When he was doing that, he really started to think, ‘What about doing a satellite of my own that serves no commercial purpose, serves no military purpose, serves no scientific purpose?’ But truly to make a satellite that’s quite honestly the opposite of every satellite that’s ever been built?

Trevor Paglen, Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 4), 2013, Mixed media, 16 x 16 x 16 feet.
Credit Altman Siegel Gallery and Metro Pictures

What’s the significance of that? Of doing it solely for art and for aerospace engineering?

Well Trevor Paglen is very interested in questioning these institutions and technologies that surround us, and that we either take for granted or maybe don’t question enough.

As we become a more tech-dependent society a more connected society, we’re putting satellites into space, they’re all around us. The government has them, we depend on them for our telecommunications. It’s important he thinks as humans, to take a pause and take a moment to consider what we might be building and doing. And in this case, it’s really a moment to turn our attention toward the night’s sky and really just reflect on our humanity.

A lot of people look at art and science as two separate schools of thought. What’s the significance of merging those two together?

For some time now, the Nevada Museum of Art has been at the forefront of STEAM education. It’s one thing to have STEM, we all know how important STEM is and what that is. But when you remove that art and design-based thinking component from it, you really lose the ability to have a holistic approach to problem-solving, these creative solutions.

And I think we’ve gotten too far into the weeds, where if you’re doing something so mechanical without the art piece, you’re really not producing the innovators of tomorrow. That’s where that art component becomes so critically important.

Art gives you permission to look at things differently, to think about things differently, to look at the world in different way than science does. So when you have these two disciplines come together, you really not only have a greater story to tell because you’ve enhanced your ability to tell that story in a meaningful way, but you’ve also then provided a platform to consider true innovation, true creative solutions to some of the greater things facing us today.

Who do you have to partner with to make something like this happen? There’s the aerospace engineers. But are you working with other agencies, is NASA involved?

Truly we had no idea how to approach this when Trevor came to us. We need somebody with aerospace knowledge and who’s a seasoned industry veteran who can help us navigate what we’re doing here. So that’s a really important component.

We had to find the right engineers to build the satellite, right? So the satellite itself is a CubeSat. CubeSats are pretty small when it comes to other satellites. We had to find somebody to build that. And we also had to find somebody to build the balloon.

So what will happen when Orbital Reflector gets to space, the CubeSat comes out of the rocket, the balloon inflates, and the balloon itself is a 100-foot long diamond shape, which is a highly-reflective structure.

And then you have to get a ride on a rocket, so you use a space broker. Who knew that there was such a thing as a space broker, but there is. And then they will broker the flight on a SpaceX rocket.

When is this thing going to launch and how long will it be in space?

We are scheduled to launch next Spring; we don’t have a confirmed date yet. It will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, so we know it will launch from Southern California.

It’s anticipated to be in visible orbit for about two months.

Prototype for Trevor Paglen: Orbital Reflector, co-produced and presented by the Nevada Museum of Art, on view in the Donald W. Reynolds Grand Hall at the Nevada Museum of Art.
Credit Courtesy of Nevada Museum of Art.

As a point of disclosure, the Nevada Museum of Art is a financial contributor to this station.