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January 24, 2011

NASA's First Solar Sail NanoSail-D Deploys in Low-Earth Orbit

It was confirmed on Friday January 21, 2011 that NASA successfully deployed its first solar sail, called NanoSail-D, into low-Earth orbit and the system is operating properly. Solar sail technology is currently being investigated by NASA as an alternative form of propulsion that can be used for needed improvements in de-orbit technologies. NanoSail-D was specifically designed to demonstrate the legitimacy of compact solar sail boom technology that could prove vital for future missions in space. NanoSail-D launch also demonstrated a spacecraft's ability to launch a nano-satellite into orbit and avoiding re-contact with the primary satellite, which is something that Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, or FASTSAT, is currently working on. NanoSail-D will remain in low-Earth orbit for 70-120 days, depending on weather conditions, and will be sending back beacon signals during this time period in order to track its progression through its orbit.


Posted by rymkelly at January 24, 2011 10:36 PM


I guess I'm still confused. This article is interesting but I just don't see how the NanoSail is so much more useful than our current satellites. What's its mission exactly and what makes it superior to our current methods? Is it just its means of propulsion?

Posted by: ecfo at January 28, 2011 08:33 PM

It is really just a means of propulsion. The challenge in spaceflight is always fuel. Solar sails mean that we can build those "science fiction" spacecraft which can travel to the nearest stars. This is because they don't need fuel. Large solar sail spacecraft could reach very high speeds before they get too far from the sun (and there is no more light to push them). Then, when they approach the star they are travelling to, they can use that star's light to slow down.

NanoSail-D is just NASA's proof of concept. The Japanese mission (which I mentioned in class) will do more science (and fly to the outer planets).

Posted by: christoq at February 8, 2011 10:01 AM

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