February 19, 2020

20.01.11: The Return of NanoSail-D2.

Never say die… a satellite that was written off as dead in space may be making a comeback. Yesterday, at 11:30AM EST, Marshall Space Flight engineers received confirmation that NanoSail-D2 did in fact eject from FASTSAT. NanoSail-D2 was one of the miniaturized payloads launched aboard FASTSAT from the Kodiak Island launch complex on November 20th, 2010, and was to deploy December 6th.

On that date, the ejection door successfully opened… and NanoSail-D2 was silent. The groundbreaking satellite is designed to test solar sail technologies in Low Earth Orbit. The use of solar sails has been plagued with difficulties, starting with the failure of the Planetary Societies’ Cosmos 1 in 2005.

All of that has appeared to have changed, however, with the spontaneous auto-ejection of the satellite. NASA is calling for ham radio operators to listen for signals at around 437.270 MHz, and Two Line Elements are up on the NanoSail-D2 dashboard.

Which leads us to our next gee-whiz idea… both NanoSail-D2 and FASTSAT are making a visible North American pass tonight, the night of January 20th. (see above) NanoSail-D2 should be about 2 minutes ahead of FASTSAT…at 12”x4”x4” inches, NanoSail-D2 is tiny, but unfurled it will have an area of about 110 sq ft, and just might be visible. That’s roughly the size of an Iridium panel, and there’s no guarantee that NanoSail-D2 won’t flare in a familiar fashion. The sails are meant to auto-deploy three days after ejection, and there seems to be some confusion about an exact ejection time…a visual sighting of the pair could confirm deployment. You won’t see anything if you don’t try!

P.S.- NanoSail-D2 is also tweeting from low Earth orbit… follow this “satellite that won’t die”: @NanoSailD !


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