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