On July 14, a team of young students and engineers in Russia launched Mayak—the first crowdfunding satellite in the history of Russia. For the next one month, this small #CubeSat will orbit the Earth, appearing as a very, very bright shooting star in the #Night Sky. According to its makers, Mayak may even surpass planet Venus in terms of brightness in the night time.

What is Mayak?

Mayak, meaning beacon in English, is a tiny CubeSat probe—about the size of a loaf of bread. Its creators raised more than $30,000 on a crowdfunding website to launch the satellite into orbit. The project was led by Moscow State Mechanical Engineering University (MAMI).

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Mayak was launched through a Soyuz 2.1v rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 14. The rocket carried with it 72 satellites that were deployed in three different orbits.

Mayak is currently circling the Earth at an altitude of about 600 kilometers. After reaching the desired position, Mayak will unfurl its 170 square feet of solar reflectors made of Mylar sheet—about one 20th the thickness of a human hair. This pyramid-shaped contraption will enable this tiny satellite to reflect a good the amount of Sun’s light towards Earth. Mayak’s designers claim that this tiny satellite will have a brightness of magnitude -10, thus making it appear even brighter than Venus in the night sky. This means it will be the second brightest object, after the moon, in the night sky. Some experts, however, dispute the claim and assert that Mayak’s brightness level will probably be close to magnitude -3.6.

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Tracking the movement of the satellite

Mayak’s team has created an Android app to track the movement of the satellite in space. The access to this app will, however, be limited only to backers of the crowdfunding project. The team hopes the data received from Mayak will enable them to find a solution for space junk problem by designing larger devices able to be attached to pieces of space junk to bring the junk pieces down in the atmosphere and then burn up. The team also hopes that their effort will raise the interest of people in space technology.

Many astronomers have also raised their concerns about the appearance of a new bright object in the sky that is expected to interfere with their telescopic observations. Astronomers already have to carefully time their observations to avoid unwanted light spilling over from celestial bodies, and after the launch of Mayak, they will need to make additional adjustments while conducting large-scale surveys.