Look upwards tonight and you might just see a new "star" streaking across the sky. A Russian CubeSat called Mayak (meaning "lighthouse") was successfully launched on Friday, and is set to be one of the brightest objects in the night sky.
At 9:36 am local time on July 14, Mayak was launched from Baikonur spaceport aboard a Soyuz 2.1a rocket. The satellite entered orbit a few hours later, at 12:10 pm, and shortly after that the sun reflector was unfolded.
This reflector, in the shape of a 3 m (9.8 ft) tall pyramid, is there to achieve two of Mayak's main scientific goals. Made of a thin reflective metallized membrane, the pyramid is designed to catch the sun's rays and reflect the light back to Earth, which the team says makes it the second brightest object in the night sky behind the Moon. That allows Mayak to be used as a reference object to help measure the apparent magnitude, or brightness, of satellites.
The second goal is to increase drag on the satellite. That sounds like something you'd normally want to avoid, but in this case the team is testing a new space-brakes system designed to help Mayak deorbit faster and burn up as it reenters Earth's atmosphere. If the system works, it could be applied as a disposal method for other satellites to help declutter low-Earth orbit, which is currently full of old space junk that poses an increasing hazard.