Space

Russian team plans to unfurl the brightest "star" in the night sky

An artist's rendition of Mayak, a Russian CubeSat that may soon become one of the brightest objects in the night sky
An artist's rendition of Mayak, a Russian CubeSat that may soon become one of the brightest objects in the night sky
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An artist's rendition of Mayak, a Russian CubeSat that may soon become one of the brightest objects in the night sky
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An artist's rendition of Mayak, a Russian CubeSat that may soon become one of the brightest objects in the night sky

The night sky is dotted with familiar faces, easy to spot thanks to their brightness. The Moon is a no-brainer, but look a little closer and you might pick out Venus, Mars, the star Sirius or even the International Space Station whizzing by. But a new object could soon outshine them all (bar the Moon, of course). A Russian CubeSat fitted with solar reflectors, named "Mayak" is due for launch mid-July.

Astronomers measure the brightness of celestial bodies using a scale called apparent magnitude, where the lower the number an object is assigned, the brighter it is. As the brightest thing in the sky by a wide margin, the Sun has an apparent visual magnitude of about -27, while the full Moon ranks between -13 and -12. The ISS is consistently the brightest artificial object at -6, while Venus peaks at around -5.

When and if Mayak is launched, it will shine with an apparent magnitude of -10, which would make it second only to the Moon as the brightest object in the night sky. Appropriately enough, the name "Mayak" is Russian for "lighthouse."

Mayak was designed and built by students from Moscow Polytechnic. It's housed inside a standard 3U CubeSat, meaning it measures 340.5 x 100 x 100 mm (13.4 x 3.9 x 3.9 in) and weighs about 3.6 kg (7.9 lb). That little package contains a power source, control system, and most notably, a set of solar reflectors that will unfurl in orbit, giving the spacecraft its characteristic sheen.

Mayak's makers have a few goals in mind. As a student project that relied heavily on crowdfunding, it's designed to show that space is accessible to small scientific teams, much like many CubeSats. Once it's up there, Mayak's brightness will be used to study how best to calculate the apparent magnitude of small spacecraft, and at the end of its run, an aerodynamic braking device will be deployed, testing a new system to halt the satellite's orbit and "dispose" of it.

Mayak is due for launch aboard a Soyuz-2.1a rocket on July 14.

Source: Cosmo Mayak

9 comments
Brian M
Yet more space junk!
DavidHarmon
@Brian M - Obviously, you either didn't read the article...or you just didn't understand the article,...or even just didn't understand what you read??? Anyways, if you would have paid attention to what you read, when the satellite is done, it will apply brakes (which will slow it down so the orbit will decay, thus entering the atmosphere and self destructing) and be gone from the heavens. So, I applaud them!
owlbeyou
Designed and built by students and helped by the state to get it in orbit... that's what I call a wonderful and progressive effort where everybody wins, no matter where this happens!
habakak
The braking system sounds like a very good solution to solving a lot of space junk issues. I wonder why it has not developed into SOP for all things launched into space (like 2nd stage boosters, retired satellites, etc.)
AbsolutJohn
1. Wow - and this is moving forward? 2. Is that really the purpose? We all know what cube sats are used for... 3. Hasn't anyone seen a Bond movie - EVER? There's 4 whole movies there based on Russians (OK - or the North Koreans) putting things into space that are actually meant to be a WMD of some kind. Heck, even when their space station came crashing back down to Earth, everyone had to worry about how much radioactive material it would scatter across the globe!
DavidMcclellan
Clearly they are giving weight to the increasing amount of objects buzzing around the Earth. Which I applaud. My problem is with the access crowdfounding grants, will everyone else that comes after also consider this important? Given the volatile nature of crowdfounded projects it seems more then likely that corners will be cut when an expected $$ goal isn't met to move the project forward. There is a growing need for an internationally recognized body that will actually have the authority to over these types of space access. Because the UN has no real power over this and the Outer Space Treaty isn't cutting it.
ljaques
Is that a Made in China tag on the bottom right? P.S: "Aerodynamic braking devices" cannot be used in orbit (space, eh?) where there is no air.
Edb4pax
Brian, you took those very words out of my mouth. Space junk indeed! Sorry, "DavidHarmon", YOU miss the point: This project is space junk because it will be thrown away in space. Something just doesn't go "flit" and turn into nothing. There will be more debris- no matter the size of particles- left behind to combine with the tons of trash floating around now. We are treasting space the same as we have been treating our Earth.
Derekristow
@Brian M / @DavidMcclellan / @ljaques / @Edb4pax The crowdfunding page for the craft says it's going to be going into a 600 km orbit. Such an orbit still feels a miniscule amount of atmospheric pressure, which is enough to pull any craft that low out of orbit within a few years by friction if not reboosted. A light, broad spacecraft like this will come down much faster than that, even if the brakes don't work. No real space junk concerns here, fortunately, it'll be gone before long.