Success! NanoSail-D Deploys

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:

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

Happy sailing!

9 Replies to “Success! NanoSail-D Deploys”

    1. Incorrect.
      Nanosail-D batteries were designed to be exhausted at this point of the mission. Deployment of sail and planned de-orbit is occurring as expected.

      1. Be serious. Cubesat batteries last for at least 30 days. On the other side I have never seen before an announcement or something like that reading: “The batteries of NanoSail-D will last only a few days”! The mission failed. Without power the satellite is space junk.

    1. That diagram shows a catastrophic power failure a few hours after the sails deployed, but not immediately. Why the voltage dropped a bit after sails unfurled
      can be explained by the fact that the unlocking mechanism consumed quickly some power. However, there is no logical explanation why voltage started to drop so dramatically a few hours before transmission stopped. Something bad happened.

  1. “NanoSail-D Battery Voltage
    This plot shows a rapid battery discharge after the Sail Deployment event, which is when the power-demanding S-Band transmitter was turned on. The satellite was expected to have enough power to live on the order of a day or so beyond the Sail Deployment. This data shows that it still had enough power to broadcast reception-quality data until about 12 hours after the deployment.”

    Why the S-Band transmitter was turned on? Why it couldn’t be turned off? NanoSail-D had no receiver!?

  2. @Neon

    You do not have even a basic understanding of the operation, flight characteristics and objectives of this mission.

  3. @Neon

    lol I read about the mission objectives last year, before the launch!

    What have you been paying attention to, btw? This site is about science and exploration; nobody cares about what YOU are interested in betting on.

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