A bright new satellite will soon be outshining all the stars in the sky, if all goes according to plan.
The Russian satellite, Mayak, is set to launch on Friday, July 14th, with plans to be the brightest artificial object in the night sky. Reports vary about the potential brightness of the satellite, whose name translates to “beacon”, placing it between a magnitude of -3.6 and -10. At -3.6 the satellite would be the fourth brightest object in the sky, coming in behind Venus, but if it can truly reach -10, it would be outshone only by the moon and the sun. In any case, it stands to be the brightest man-made satellite in existence.
It is perhaps surprising then that this satellite is smaller than most laptop computers and perhaps even more so that the whole project is paid for by crowd funding. Using the Russian site Boomstarter, more than $30,000 dollars was raised for the project, started by Moscow State Mechanical Engineering University. When Mayak reaches the desired location, the plan is that it will unfold its solar reflecting material into the shape of a pyramid, allowing it to reflect the sun’s rays from a variety of directions. According to the New York Post, the solar reflector is made of Mylar, will have a surface area of 170 square feet and is apparently only 5% as thick as a human hair.
The purpose behind the launching of this tiny shiny satellite is threefold, according to TechTimes. One purpose is to simply try to become the brightest thing in the night sky, an interesting goal, if one that astronomers see as an unwelcome obstacle for observing the skies beyond Mayak. The second goal for launching this satellite is to prove that crowdfunding is a viable tool for launching space research missions. In this way, the team hopes to prove that space exploration does not have to belong exclusively to governments of billion-dollar companies. The third goal is to test the use of a new braking system for satellites which should make it possible to bring satellites, (at least the smaller ones), back to Earth without burning up in the atmosphere.
If this project is successful, it may prove to be just one of many future crowdfunded projects to travel beyond our atmosphere and may lead to big changes in what we see when we look up.