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Trevor Paglen on the Strange Fate of His Orbital Reflector Project


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At Medium, Trevor Paglen writes about his Orbital Reflector (OR) project, a “spacecraft/sculpture” designed to be launched into orbit and reflect sunlight back to earth, resembling a star. The aim of the project, writes Paglen, was “to highlight the politics of space, and to question who has the right to do what with our shared resources and environments.” The spacecraft did not deploy as intended, but through this failure, notes Paglen, the project became a “stellar success” in a completely unintended way. Here’s an excerpt from his story:

The ground team continued monitoring OR, waiting for the satellites from the rocket launch to spread out sufficiently for us to safely inflate the reflective structure. Then something totally unexpected happened: the Trump administration shut down the US government in an attempt to extract congressional funding for a wall along the US/Mexico border. We continued communication with OR but good signals were becoming less frequent. OR was dying. We needed to coordinate with the FCC to deploy the reflector, but there was no one to take our calls: there was no government. Pings from OR became less frequent. By the time the government re-opened 35 days later, the spacecraft had gone completely silent.

If the project’s goal was to provoke a conversation about the politics of space, it has been nothing less than a stellar success. And the story of OR has become an embodiment of those politics: the Trump administration’s insistence on building a wall between the United States and Mexico led to the demise of a spacecraft whose purpose was to questions these very kinds of politics.

Image: Sketch of Orbital Reflector. Via Trevor Paglen’s Medium page.