A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] On the late Soviet project to use mirrors to transform night into day

Brian Merchant’s “The Man Who Turned Night Into Day”, published at Vice’s Motherboard, examines the nearly successful Soviet project to launch mirrors into Earth orbit to reflect light to nighttime locations.

Employers have always aimed to maximize worker productivity. Today they might exploit the connectivity of email, smartphones, and Slack to extend the reach of the modern workday, big reasons we’re working more and sleeping less. In the 1990s, though, Russian scientists tried it the other way around. They took a different, more dramatic approach to lengthening the day—they launched massive machines into orbit to reflect sunlight down onto the dark side of the Earth.

It’s true: Throughout the early 90s, a team of Russian astronomers and engineers were hellbent on literally turning night into day. By shining a giant mirror onto the earth from space, they figured they could bring sunlight to the depths of night, extending the workday, cutting back on lighting costs and allowing laborers to toil longer. If this sounds a bit like the plot of a Bond film, well, it’s that too.

The difference is that for a second there, the scientists, led by Vladimir Sergeevich Syromyatnikov, one of the most important astronautical engineers in history, actually pulled it off.

A bright young engineer in the USSR, Vladimir Syromyatnikov graduated from a technical university in Moscow in the 1956. At the age of 23, he earned a position in Russia’s elite space and rocket design program, then called the Special Design Bureau Number 1 of Research and Development Institute Number 88 (this was Soviet Russia, recall), and later known as Energia.

[. . . B]y the late 1980s, what Syromyatnikov really wanted to do was to design a solar sail that could harness the power of the sun to propel a spacecraft through the galaxy—one that could also, say, reflect sunlight back to Earth during the dead of night.

His statesmen, however, saw a unique way to maximize labor efficiency. Throughout the Soviet era, Russian scientists were obsessed with finding ways to increase the productivity of farmlands and workers in Russia’s northern regions, where days would grow very long in the summer and extremely short in the winter. In 1988, Syromyatnikov seized on the idea of daylight extension, apparently as a pitch to get backers to support his solar sails. He retooled the focus of his design to function as a space mirror, and founded the Space Regatta Consortium.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 30, 2016 at 7:18 pm

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