• 13:14
  • 21.08.2017

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Russia’s new ‘star’

Russia’s new ‘star’

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AN experimental Russian satellite is about to become the third brightest object in our sky — behind only the sun and moon — in a move that has astronomers seeing red.
The satellite, called Mayak, was developed by Moscow Polytechnic University (MAMU). It is preparing to unfurl a giant, pyramid-shaped mirror.
And it has just one job to do: shine.
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Mayak, after all, is the Russian word for ‘beacon’.
It is part of a $US30,000 crowdfunded campaign initiated by the advertising company 12. digital.
It is exploring the practicality of launching enormous advertising ‘billboards’ into outer space.
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Mayak isn’t that.
But it is testing the technicalities of unfurling enormous reflective banners in orbit.
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Mayak was one of 72 satellites sent into space aboard a Soyuz rocket at the weekend.
Project runners report Mayak is now in position about 600km above the Earth where it is undergoing checks and preparations. If all goes well, the bread-loaf sized box will extend a 16 square meter metallised mylar sheet within the next few days.
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Once the reflective sheet is deployed, Mayak will overtake the International Space Station as the brightest man-made object in the sky, flashing overhead up to 16 times every day.
The Russian designers say the reflective sheet — one 20th the thickness of a human hair — will shine with a brightness rivalling that of the planet Venus.
It even has its own phone app, enabling users to track its location (though you may want an alternative, non-Russian language version).
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If it successfully extends its pyramid-shaped reflector, no app will be needed - given how bright it will potentially be.
And that brightness is expected to cause issues among the multitudes of ground-based telescopes peering carefully into the night sky.
These telescopes already have to carefully time their observations to avoid light spilling over from celestial bodies from ruining their exposures. And a new source on the scale of Venus is not welcome.
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And the prospect of entire billboards floating about in space promoting earthly products sends shivers down their spines.
Mayak’s Russian makers say it is expected to stay in orbit for just a month before burning up. The mylar sheet is also intended to act as an aerodynamic braking mechanism, capturing enough of the ultra-thin high-altitude atmosphere to drag it back down.

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