Moon Palace: A beacon for eco-friendly stargazing

Posted Leeds 2023

Moon Palace, a LEEDS 2023 signature project, isn’t just another mobile observatory. Instead, it serves as a compelling example of marrying sustainable innovation with the practical challenges of mobile design. Originating as a school bus and later transforming into a beacon for eco-friendly stargazing, the project showcases the vast possibilities within green technology.

At the heart of the Moon Palace’s sustainability ethos was the decision to repurpose a second-hand bus. Many vehicles were considered for this purpose, but key was ensuring that it was already equipped to welcome people with access needs. While the idea of converting the bus into a hybrid or fully electric vehicle was considered in the early days of the project, such a transition was found to be prohibitive both in terms of costs and environmental impact.

One of the standout features of the bus is its ability to power onboard equipment, like computers and telescopes, without resorting to the onboard engine or an external generator. This is achieved through an array of onboard batteries, which can be charged during downtimes, allowing for uninterrupted observations when off-grid.

When touring, the Moon Palace runs on diesel. Although this isn’t the ideal solution from a sustainability perspective, it’s a current limitation due to the age and specifics of the vehicle’s engine. The team had thoroughly explored transitioning to Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as a greener alternative, but this option was ruled out as it was unsuitable for the engine in question. Further to this, the same engine system is utilised to heat the interior of the bus during the colder months, ensuring passengers remain comfortable while observing the night sky.

"a compelling example of marrying sustainable innovation with the practical challenges of mobile design"
Jamie Saye, SAIL

The interior design further reflects the sustainable intent. Timber from an ancient woodland in Wales, owned by artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison, clad the inside. This woodland, suspected to be part of an ancient Celtic forest significant to the region, underwent replanting post-war with non-native species, primarily Hemlock and Grand Fir. The wood sourced for Moon Palace is from these invasive species, which required clearing for both historical preservation and the protection of endangered species identified in the woodland. This clearing helps promote the regeneration of the ancient ground flora and the management of these non-natives, serving a dual purpose of forest management and sustainable reuse.

The bus’s lighting system is efficiently managed with LEDs, which consume less power while providing ample illumination. A nostalgic touch remains in the seating. The original seats from the bus, with their unique designs, have been retained, repurposing both the metal framework and the upholstery.

In essence, Moon Palace stands as more than just a mobile observatory. It is a statement on the potential harmony between creativity, practicality, and sustainability. In a world striving for a greener future, Moon Palace offers a glimpse into what can be achieved with dedication and innovation.

Jamie Saye
Co-founder and Director