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NASA Prepares To Set Sail With Lightweight, Orbiting Cubesat

An artist's concept of the NanoSail-D flying above the Earth. NASA hide caption

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This post is for you if you understand — or are intrigued by — the following sentence:

This is the first time NASA has mounted a P-POD on a microsatellite to eject a cubesat.

I, myself, couldn't resist this string of techno-talk from a NASA press release.

It turns out that NASA's Small Satellite Missions program launched something called the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT) from Alaska on November 19, which has in turn just deployed the NanoSail-D cubesat.

NASA says the NanoSail-D (pictured above) is a testbed for a number of technologies and will stay in orbit for up to four months:

After ejection, a timer within NanoSail-D will begin a three day countdown as the satellite orbits the Earth. Once the timer reaches zero, four booms will quickly deploy and the NanoSail-D sail will start to unfold to a 100 square foot polymer sail. Within five seconds the sail fully unfurls.

If the deployment is successful, NanoSail-D will stay 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 system that could lead to further development of this alternative solar sail propulsion technology and FASTSAT’s ability to eject a nanosatellite from a microsatellite — while avoiding re-contact with the FASTSAT satellite bus.

The small and very small satellites used in the Small Missions program weigh between 2-440 pounds. To keep weight down, NanoSail-D uses a thin polymer material for its sail that is thinner than a single human hair.