A Russian student project hopes its cubesat satellite will become the brightest star in sky when it launches as a secondary payload on a Soyuz-2 rocket on July 14.
Once the small satellite is 370 miles into orbit, it will deploy a pyramid-shaped solar reflector that is designed to capture the sun’s rays and bounce them back to Earth, creating the effect of a twinkling star to Earthlings. The reflector will be 170 square feet, is reportedly 20 times thinner than human hair and is made of Mylar — a thin polymer material.
One goal is for the satellite to outshine naturally existing stars. Another is to evaluate how to brake satellites in orbit and de-orbit them. The Russian team of engineers and space enthusiasts also hope to generate interest in space exploration.
The mission was funded through a Russian crowdfunding website. While everyone is making a big deal about the satellite’s brightness, the engineering being tested to deploy the reflector, control it, and then deorbit the cubesat in a controlled manner is far more important. Up until recently most cubesats had somewhat limited capabilities, and were used almost exclusively to train students on satellite engineering. This mission joins many other recent missions in demonstrating that cubesats will soon be able to do almost anything much larger satellites do, and thus are economically more practically to launch.