UPDATE - August 6, 2017: Despite the reported launch of this satellite, no one has been able to spot it -- and trust me -- many, many sky watchers have tried. It was predicted to be the brightest object in the night sky, second only to the moon. Some think that the reflector deployment was unsuccessful, while other suspect it may not have reached its intended orbit. See the twitter feed link for live Mayak satellite updates. #mayak Tweets
Posted July 20, 2017 - For the first time ever, an orbiting satellite is expected to be visible during the day! Imagine peering up at a blue sky and seeing a white, "star" crossing the sky at about twice the speed of a cruising commercial passenger jet?
Skilled star-gazers can easily spot satellites like this during the late-evening -- against a black sky -- but the idea of seeing one against the blue sky of day has been previously unheard of and kind of exciting. (I wonder if this will increase the frequency of UFO reports? "That's not a plane! It's an Proxima-Centaurian!")
EXPECTED TO BE BRIGHTEST, NIGHTTIME "STAR" IN THE SKY.
Students at Moscow's Polytechnic University crowd-funded enough money to build a simple satellite which piggy-backed on a large rocket, launched from Russia last Friday, July 14th. That rocket was intended to place 70 small satellites in orbit and this, "Mayak" satellite (which translates to, "beacon" in English) was one of them.
They claim their satellite will be the third brightest object in the sky compared to #1, the Sun -- #2, Moon. This means at night, it'll be brighter than Jupiter.
Visibility will achieved not from the large size of the satellite, but from its huge, "sail" -- a reflector hoisted after it reached orbit. While it flies some 370 miles above the Earth in what is by all definitions is, "the vacuum of space", this 170 square foot Mylar reflective tetrahedron-shaped appendage to the toaster-sized satellite, will act to catch tiny air molecules like a sail would catch wind. This will amplify the effects of atmospheric drag resulting in a higher, "decay rate" (orbital decay, or, "falling from orbit"). They hope to observe this effect.
Drag in open space? Well, even up there, if you're inside about 6,700 miles above the planet there are stray molecules of gas which represent the outer-most reaches of our atmosphere. When a space craft encounters these particles (like the International Space Station or any other object), dragging forces can very slowly decrease velocity enough to ultimately result in them falling back to Earth. (The ISS and other satellites have on-board rockets that occasionally fire, to place them into a higher orbit, fighting the decaying effects of low-orbit drag -- but some older satellites that have run out of rocket fuel do fall back to Earth.)
The students who launched this project say the ultimate aim is to inspire the next generation of scientists to explore space.