Solar sail satellites have been taking the top headlines this year, with devices such as Lightsail-1 grabbing much of the attention. However, NASA has just become the first agency to launch an experimental micro-satellite from a larger, solar powered satellite. The NanoSail-D was recently ejected from the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT) in order to show that NASA had the capability to deploy a small cubesat payload from an autonomous micro-satellite in space. NASA believes that this technology could eventually be used to clean up space debris.

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The FASTSAT satellite, which was launched on November 19, contained a number of scientific experiments aboard including the tiny NanoSail-D spacecraft. The satellite, which is about the size of a loaf of bread, was attached to the  Poly Pico-Satellite Orbital Deployer and deployed once in orbit.

Once it was released,  the NanoSail-D began a three-day countdown which was due to end today. When the countdown ends, the NanoSail-D will deploy a gossamer-thin solar sail that will stretch out to 100 square feet. It will then conduct a series of tests to see how viable solar travel is, much like the Japanese did earlier in the year with their Ikaros satellite.

Once the tests are done, Nanosail-D will burn up in the planet’s atmosphere proving that satellites can be made to ‘self-destruct’ instead of staying in orbit and posing a danger to other spacecrafts. Currently there are thousands of disused satellites in orbit, but if NASA can devised a way to bring them safely back to Earth, or to burn them up in the atmosphere, it will greatly reduce the debris in Earth’s inner space caused by numerous unpowered satellite collisions.


via Space Daily