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We have a solar sail! As we reported on the 19th, the little cubesat that was thought to be lost has now been found, and now today, Friday, Jan. 21, engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center confirmed that the NanoSail-D deployed its 100-square-foot polymer solar sail in low-Earth orbit and is operating as planned. The sail actually deployed late on Jan. 20, and it was quite interesting to see how ham radio operators were helping the engineers monitor the critical beacons sent out by the spacecraft — with communications also being sent back and forth via Twitter. The video above is from Henk Hamoen (@PA3GUO on Twitter) who operates a ham radio station in the Netherlands. The NanoSail-D sends an beacon packet every 10 seconds, which contains data about the spacecraft systems operation, and Hamoen and others were able to help make sure things were going as planned.
“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. “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 run out. For ham radio buggs: the beacon can be found at 437.270 MHz. It can be tracked on the NanoSail-D dashboard at: http://nanosaild.engr.scu.edu/dashboard.htm.
It is estimated that NanoSail-D will remain in low-Earth orbit between 70 and 120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions.
NanoSail-D is designed to demonstrate deployment of a compact solar sail boom technology. This is the first successful solar sail deployment in low Earth Orbit, and the second such deployment in less than a year; Japan’s IKAROS set sail in June 2010 for Venus.
Follow the NanoSail-D mission operation on Twitter