Shiny New Satellite Set to Launch Tomorrow | Nerdy Thursday


A group of Russian engineers from Moscow State Mechanical Engineering University is taking their passion for shiny things to a whole new level. The scientists came up with the idea to shoot a compact satellite, named Mayak, into space. Once in space, the satellite would unfold paper-thin reflective panels into a pyramid shape spanning 16 square meters. Mirror reports that the satellite is set to launch tomorrow, July 14.

Unlike most other space exploration projects, this project is not funded by a government or billion-dollar business. It’s largely crowdsourced. Using Boomstarter (aka Russia’s Kickstarter), the engineers raised 1.5 million rubles (which is about 25,000 USD) to help fund their project. They aim to change the way that people view space exploration, proving that anyone with an interest in the cosmos can raise the necessary funding and put their technology into space. Moreover, the engineers strive to test a satellite braking system which would allow Mayak to reenter the earth’s atmosphere and land without an engine.

The controversial aspect of the project is Mayak’s shininess. The Russian engineers intend for the large panels to reflect light from the sun, making it the brightest object in the night sky. Conflicting reports estimate that the magnitude of the brightness will be between -2 and -10. To put this into perspective, a measure of brightness of -10 is brighter than Venus. Some believe that this becomes problematic for scientists who rely on the night sky’s darkness for their research.

Talking to IFLScience, science writer and amateur astronomer at the Kielder Observatory in England Nick Howes said, “We fight so hard for dark skies in and around our planet. To see this being potentially ruined by some ridiculous crowdfunded nonsense makes my heart simply despair.”

In response, project leader Alex Shaenko told IFLScience that astronomers will be able to take steps to keep Mayak from interfering with their research, tracking the movement of the satellite and withdrawing it from their observations. “It will not be a problem,” he said, “There are a lot of spacecraft[sic] flying in the night sky, some even brighter than Mayak.”

It’s questionable that the Mayak scientists claimed that their satellite will be the brightest object in the night sky, then immediately contradicted that statement as soon as critics weighed in on the unsavory effects of their project. It’s strange that scientists are using their knowledge and expertise to make a satellite unnecessarily shiny. And when you see a new twinkling object in the sky tomorrow night, it’s probably the Russians.

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