Russia launches its first crowdfunding satellite

Russia launches its first crowdfunding satellite Photo: NSSDC, NASA

A new bright star may appear in the sky this month: young Russian scientists managed to raise more than $30,000 on Boomstarter crowdfunding website to launch their own small satellite. The creators believe that their project will promote astronautics and space research in Russia and attract young people's attention to science and technology education.

Russian scientists have successfully launched a new satellite, which is supposed to become the ''brightest star in the night sky'', reports Mirror. The spacecraft named Mayak is the result of a $30,000 crowdfunding campaign by the Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering (also known as Moscow Polytech). The project's team has released an Android app allowing to track the progress of Mayak across the sky.

Mayak was launched aboard a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan on 14 July and entered orbit at 12.10 p.m. In the next few days, after all the necessary checks and preparations, the satellite will deploy its reflective Mylar sheet, which is twenty times thinner than a human hair.

The satellite itself is only the size of a rugby ball, but it contains a giant pyramid-shaped solar reflector reaching 16 square metres when unfurled. The goal is to bounce the sun's light back towards Earth and make Mayak the second brightest object in the night sky after the Moon. The inventors suppose to use it to obtain new information about the density of air at high altitude, and as a reference point to measure the magnitude and brightness of other space objects. Besides, the creators claim that the project will help popularise astronautics and space research in Russia and increase the attractiveness of science and technology education among young people.

Mayak will unfurl its reflective sheet in the next few days. Photo: YouTube/cosmomayak.ru

However, not everyone is happy about a new giant speck of light in the night sky. ''We fight so hard for dark skies in and around our planet,'' said Nick Howes, an astronomer and former deputy director of the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland. ''To see this being potentially ruined by some ridiculous crowdfunded nonsense makes my heart simply despair.''

After one month in the Earth's orbit, Mayak will begin its descent. On the way back down, the team will test a new space-braking system to help the spacecraft deorbit more slowly and burn up as it enters the atmosphere. In case of success, the system can be used as a disposal method for other satellites in order to help declutter low-Earth orbit, which is currently full of old space junk that poses an increasing hazard, says the media.

By Anna Litvina