Dove satellite image (2015)

4" x 13"

Laser-etched aluminum, attached to orbiting satellite

Currently in sunsynchronous orbit

A collaboration between Planet Labs, Autodesk Pier 9, and seven artists. Planet Labs’ satellites, also known as “doves,” orbit and image our planet, providing unprecedented insight on climate patterns, water tables, deforestation and other data sets carrying the potential to radically change our understanding of the sublunary world.

Each artist made one image that was laser-etched onto satellite side panels. The panels were milled out of aluminum and have a reflective white powder coating to reduce solar heat. My illustration used a halftone pattern to remove the coating in hundreds of tiny dots.

The image is a digital manipulation of an electron microscope image of a radiolarian, an incredibly tiny organism with intricate geometric shapes. Radiolaria fascinate me because they are so highly evolved for structural properties and movement. I believe humans have to look to biology to make the next leaps in innovation for technology, including vehicles and space travel.

The image is processed with a custom halftone algorithm to produce high contrast dots that the eye resolves into shading when you step further away. The uncanny multiplication of scale interests me, in this case as the satellite moves away from Earth the halftone image would pass from abstract when close-up to fully resolved and representational within a certain distance, to far enough away to essentially vanish.

This image etched on to a 13" satellite panel will be about 3,000 times bigger than the actual size of the microorganism. So theoretically someone floating between the Dove and Earth would see the image at life size - however humans are not capable of seeing something that small unaided. Just as microscopes and telescopes enable us to see at scales previously unimaginable, spacecraft like the Dove are just the beginning of our travels outwards into the cosmos. This piece is a reminder of the importance and difficulty of seeing things on multiple scales simultaneously.

The Dove satellites were brought by a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station in August 2015. They were deployed shortly after, where they stay in sunsynchronous orbit for several years before burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.

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