Russian Artificial Star Fails To Deploy In Orbit

Artist's impression of Mayak. Boomstarter

Remember that Russian satellite that was going to become one of the brightest stars in the sky? Well, it has apparently failed to work.

Called Mayak, and developed by Moscow State Mechanical Engineering University (MAMU), it was launched on July 14 on a Soyuz rocket. The plan was for a large pyramid shaped reflector to unfurl from the bread loaf-sized cubesat once in orbit.

However, the team and Russian media outlets have reported that this failed to work. In a post on the website geektimes.ru, the project leader Alexander Shaenko said it had likely failed to deploy.

He noted that some amateur astronomers had supposedly spotted Mayak. But he says these are more likely to be other satellites reflecting the Sun than the Mayak satellite itself. It’s thought a design flaw may have caused the problem, or the satellite may have had an external impact when launching into orbit.

"It may well be that we have done something wrong, and maybe there were some problems with our deduction," Shaenko told the Russian news agency TASS.

He said that they had made some mistakes during the project, including an overly enthusiastic PR overselling how bright Mayak would be. They said it would be a magnitude of -10, which is third in brightness only to the Sun and Moon. Our own calculations suggested it would be -3, making it the fourth brightest after Venus.

A possible sighting of Mayak, but this is more likely to be another satellite

The team will now look into why the reflector failed to deploy, but it looks pretty unlikely that it will be recoverable. That may be music to the ears of some astronomers, who had raised concerns that the brightness of Mayak could affect astronomical observations.

“One can only hope the mission fails and the plan to blight our pristine dark skies never takes shape,” Nick Howes, an astronomer and former deputy director of the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, told IFLScience last month.

If it had worked, the reflector would have spanned 16 square meters (170 square feet). Made of Mylar and 20 times thinner than a human hair, it would have orbited at a height of 600 kilometers (370 miles). People on the ground could track its progress using an app.

Sadly or not, depending on your point of view, this project appears to have failed. Our stars will now be one artificial star less, for better or worse.

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