NASA Regains Contact With Wayward Satellite


nanosail.jpeg The Nanosail-D is one of the first ever functioning solar sails. It was part of a package of experiments that lifted off Nov. 19 from the Kodiak Launch Complex. NASA image

Jacob Resneck/KMXT

A NASA experiment launched from the Kodiak Launch Complex and given up for lost has suddenly begun functioning, exciting many in the space community. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck reports.

— nanosail satellite pkg2:09"The breadbox … conditions. I’m Jacob Resneck."

The breadbox-sized Nanosail-D was one of 16 satellites contained in the Minotaur IV rocket that lifted off November 19th from Narrow Cape.

The experiment is a microthin polymer sail designed to harness solar wind to propel satellites in a way that could one day allow orbiting satellites to scuttle themselves rather than end up as space junk.

NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office estimates that about 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm are known to exist. Amount of smaller debris from past launches are thought to number in the millions.

That’s becoming a problem as space debris becomes a hazard for present and future satellites. Here’s Air Force Col. Carol Welsch, director of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program briefing reporters last November.

— welsch1

During the same briefing, NASA aerospace engineer Dean Alhorn described how the Nanosail-D was designed to deploy.

— alhorn1

The problem was that – at least initially – that didn’t happen. By mid-December NASA had given up on the eight-and-a-half pound.

That changed last Thursday. For reasons not entirely clear, the Nanosail-D spontaneously unfurled itself with amateur radio operators first picking up the satellite’s signature radio beacon. Their findings have since been confirmed by NASA engineers on the ground.

Alhorn released a statement the next day calling the deployment "tremendous news."

It’s the first time NASA has successfully deployed a solar sail. NASA says the satellite is expected to remain in a low-Earth orbit for up to 120 days depending on atmospheric conditions.

I’m Jacob Resneck


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