Officials at the private aerospace institute are planning to launch a fake moon over China by 2020. Scientists say it will be bright enough to illuminate an entire city, without the aid of street lights.

China Is Launching Artificial Moons

The city of Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan province in Southern China, is hoping to unveil the world’s first artificial moon within the next two years.

The Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Company (the main contractor for China’s space program) is taking the reigns on the groundbreaking project. Although details are unclear, representative say tests have been going on for years and the technology is ready.

According to the Chinese newspaper the People’s Daily, the idea was inspired by a French artist “who imagined hanging a necklace made of mirrors above the Earth, which could reflect sunshine through the streets of Paris all year round.”

The project aims to reduce energy usage and cut down costs on lighting China’s busy city streets. Officials say that by lighting up just 31 square miles or Chengdu’s night sky, the artificial moon could save the city an estimated 1.2 billion yuan (equal to $174 million U.S. dollars) every year.

Plans are in the works to launch three additional moons by 2022—potentially covering much more ground. The three satellites will take turns providing illumination and, working together, they should be able to light 2,000 to 4,000 square miles for up to 24 hours.

How Will They Work?

The “moons” will actually be satellites with a special coating that will reflect the light of the sun onto the city at night. Scientists say the first satellite will launch from the Xichange Satellite Launch Center, and will orbit about 300 miles above the Earth.

In theory, the light reflected off the satellite will be bright enough to replace street lamps, illuminating an area with a diameter of 6-50 miles. Officials say that both the location and brightness of the moon can be changed and that it can be completely shut off if necessary. And, because the moon is mobile, it can be moved to light other areas (like disaster sites) if necessary.

Potential Pitfalls

The project has been openly mocked by some and questioned by others. Many are afraid that the artificial light could have negative impacts on both humans and animals alike. Bright light at night could affect human’s sleep-wake cycles, or confuse nocturnal animals.

John Barentine, director of Public Policy at the International Dark Sky Association, says, “The moon would significantly increase the night-time brightness of an already light-polluted city, creating problems for Chengdu’s residents who are unable to screen out the unwanted light.”

Officials in charge of the project, however, think adverse effects will be minimal. According to Kang Weimin of the Harbin Institute of Technology, the moon’s light would create nothing more than a “dusk-like glow.”

For now, researchers say, “We will only conduct our tests in an uninhabited desert, so our light beams will not interfere with any people or Earth-based space observation equipment.”

MORE: 7 facts you probably didn’t know about the Moon