A month late, solar sail unfurls

To the delight of NASA engineers, the NanoSail-D nanosatellite has unfurled its 100-square-foot polymer sail in low-Earth orbit and is operating as planned after a month of inactivity.

The discovery was first made by an amateur radio club.

“This is tremendous news and the first time NASA has deployed a solar sail in low-Earth orbit,” said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and aerospace engineer at the Marshall Center.

“To get to this point is an incredible accomplishment for our small team and I can’t thank the amateur ham operator community enough for their help in tracking NanoSail-D. Their assistance was invaluable. In particular, the Marshall Amateur Radio Club was the very first to hear the radio beacon. It was exciting!”

NanoSail-D will continue to send out beacon signals until the onboard batteries are expended, and can be found at 437.270 MHz. It can be tracked on the NanoSail-D dashboard, here. http://nanosaild.engr.scu.edu/dashboard.htm.

NanoSail-D was originally expected to open four days after ejection from the Cubesat microsatellite on December 6th. It’s now expected to remain in low-Earth orbit for between 70 and 120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions.

The sail, made of a thin polymer is intended to demonstrate the feasibility of using similar technologies to reduce reliance on traditional propulsion techniques, and could be a big step forwards in efforts to clear space debris.

“This accomplishment validates that we’ve met another of our primary mission objectives – successfully ejecting a nanosatellite from an orbiting microsatellite,” said Mark Boudreaux, Fastsat project manager at the Marshall Center. “This is another significant accomplishment for our inter-agency, industry and governmental Fastsat-HSV01 partnership team.”