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Trevor Paglen: Orbital Reflector

Trevor Paglan’s Orbital Reflector is a non-functional satellite that was launched into low Earth orbit on 3 December 2018. Made from a lightweight, reflective material similar to Mylar, the sculpture was designed to orbit the earth for several weeks before disintegrating as it re-enters our atmosphere.

Trevor Paglen (b. 1974) is an American artist whose work opens up conversations about surveillance and information infrastructures, the politics of vision and how we see the world. Describing his practice as a frame that helps us to see the historical moment that we live in, Paglen develops work that attempts to see what a different world might be like.

While it is no secret that satellites are instrumental to everything from our phones and TVs to global financial and military systems, it is easy to forget these all-but-invisible activities as they take place in outer space. Orbital Reflector changes this by transforming 'space' into 'place'.

A satellite that has "no military, scientific or commercial functions whatsoever", Orbital Reflector is the first sculpture ever designed solely for exhibition in orbit. Sunlight reflecting onto the sculpture makes it visible to the naked eye from Earth, like a slowly moving artificial star, as bright as a star in the Big Dipper.

Orbital Reflector was launched on 3 December 2018 on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, housed in a small box-like infrastructure known as a CubeSat. Once in low-earth orbit (about 350 miles from Earth), the CubeSat opened and released the sculpture, which self-inflated to an elongated diamond shape. After completing its projected eight-week journey, Orbital Reflector will burn up completely on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, leaving no trace.

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The Making of
Video credit: Nevada Art

The Henry Moore Foundation awarded £5,000 towards commissioning Orbital Reflector.

Trevor Paglen: Orbital Reflector, showing archive materials generated from the Orbital Reflector project over its three-year lifespan, opened at Nevada Museum of Art on 29 April 2016 and continues until 30 June 2019. For opening times and directions see www.nevadaart.org.

For more information on the project, including live tracking of the satellite, see www.orbitalreflector.com.

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