Russian scientists working on the Mayak satellite – which is set to be the brightest ‘star’ in the night sky – have announced that it is nearing completion.
Engineers have crowd-funded around $20,000 (£15,400), which is enough to build and test the satellite which is due to be launched in a fortnight.
Its designers say it could be used to combat space junk by using a parachute-like structure to lower the orbits of debris so they can burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
However, some astronomers have slammed the creation, which is no larger than a rugby ball, calling it a ‘nonsense’ project that could ‘ruin’ dark skies for everyone.
Called the ‘Mayak’ or ‘Beacon’, the satellite is set to outshine everything in the sky, apart from the sun, thanks to a giant reflective sheet of material.
The controversial satellite is due to be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday 14 July.
Its the work of engineers from the University of Mechanical Engineering in Moscow.
‘We fight so hard for dark skies in and around our planet,’ Nick Howes, an astronomer and former deputy director of the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland, told IFLScience.
‘To see this being potentially ruined by some ridiculous crowdfunded nonsense makes my heart simply despair.’
The launch of Mayak is expected to be taken up in a Soyuz 2 rocket, with help from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.
The team is planning to place the spacecraft in a sun-synchronous orbit 370 miles (600km) above the ground.
This means it will always be in the path of sunlight, so will always be shining at different locations on Earth as it rotates.
The small spacecraft will launch a giant pyramid-shaped solar reflector in orbit.
‘Russian cubestat ‘Mayak’ to launch Jul 14 will deploy a reflector that may be as bright as mag minus 10. Astronomers likely to be annoyed’, tweeted Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
He also noted that with telescopes scanning much of the sky each night it ‘could cause problems’.
Facebook user Paulonius Woodham, who says he is a teacher and student in Perth, wrote on his Facebook; ‘Brightest star in our night sky? No just a useless piece of junk that they will send up to join all teh other useless junk polluting orbit’.
The reflector is 170 square feet (16 square metres) in size and made of a thin polymer film 20 times thinner than human hair.
Each edge will be 2.7 meters (9ft) long, with a total surface area of 6 square meters (65 square feet).
The Cubesat will used also a braking system to open a parachute that will catch space debris.
But the aim of the project is to promote space research in the country, and to make science and engineering more appealing to young Russians.
A previous proposal, which involved attaching a reflective panel of plastic to a cargo ship heading to the Mir space station, was designed to see if orbiting mirrors could illuminate cities or other parts of Earth by reflecting sunlight.
The idea was that the mirrors could extend daylight hours for farmers, for example, reports Ars Technica.
‘We are sending a spacecraft into orbit that will be the brightest star in the sky, visible from any point on our planet,’ project leader Alexander Shaenko, head of the modern cosmonautics course at Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering.
‘We want to show that space exploration is something exciting and interesting, but most importantly that today it is accessible to everybody who is interested.’
Students from the university are also taking part in the crowdfunded project to launch the orbital spacecraft.