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NASA’s Nanosail-D Becomes the First Solar Sail Spacecraft to Orbit the Earth

Posted By Timon Singh On January 27, 2011 @ 2:49 pm In Green Transportation,Renewable Energy | 1 Comment

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NASA’s tiny solar sail spacecraft, the Nanosail-D [1], has become the first solar vehicle to orbit the Earth. NanoSail-D was placed into orbit 400 miles above the planet by its ‘mother satellite’ the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology SATellite (FASTSAT) [2] last year. The vessel has proven that solar technology is suitable for space travel, and it is part of a plan to bring derelict satellites back to Earth [3].

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Of course, the Nanosail-D has had some problems along the way — it actually spent the last month and a half stuck in FASTSAT. It was launched in November 2010 along with five other experiments, but when the moment came to launch Nanosail-D, it got stuck. A spring was supposed to push the breadbox-sized probe into an orbit of its own with room to unfurl a sail, but this failed to happen until this week when it spontaneously launched itself.

Speaking about the surprise launch, NanoSail-D [4] principal investigator Dean Alhorn of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. said, “I couldn’t believe my eyes. Our spacecraft was flying free!”

Nanosail-D will now circle the planet until it skims the atmosphere, allowing aerodynamic drag to eventually bring it down out of orbit. It will then burn up in the atmosphere. Nanosail-D is part of a whole new wave of solar satellites that includes Japan’s IKAROS project [5]. Japan’s space program JAXA is planning on using solar sails to venture deeper into space — IKAROS has already passed Venus and a new mission is expected to sail a satellite by Jupiter later in the decade.

+ NASA [6]

Via PhysOrg [7]


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URL to article: http://inhabitat.com/nasas-nanosail-d-becomes-the-first-solar-sail-spacecraft-to-orbit-the-earth/

URLs in this post:

[1] Nanosail-D: http://inhabitat.com/nasa-set-to-launch-solar-nanosail-into-space

[2] Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology SATellite (FASTSAT): http://inhabitat.com/nasa-set-to-launch-solar-nanosail-into-space/

[3] bring derelict satellites back to Earth: http://inhabitat.com/nasa-solar-powered-micro-satellite-will-clean-space-debris/

[4] NanoSail-D: http://www.physorg.com/tags/nanosail+d/

[5] Japan’s IKAROS project: http://inhabitat.com/japans-ikaros-spacecraft-successfully-propelled-by-solar-sail/

[6] + NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/

[7] PhysOrg: http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-first-ever-solar-momentous.html

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