Feeds

NASA nano-satellite belatedly ejects from orbiting mothership

Boffins ask radio hams for help with small sun-jammer

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

NASA has announced that a small "nano-satellite" which was supposed to be released from a larger spacecraft in orbit on 6 December has finally separated from its mothership. The space agency is appealing for help from ham radio enthusiasts in picking up signals from the little NanoSail-D.

NASA concept of the NanoSail-D with sails deployed in orbit

Don't rush me

"What a pleasant surprise this morning when our flight operations team confirmed that NanoSail-D is now a free flyer," commented NASA honcho Mark Boudreaux, in charge of the FASTSAT mothership spacecraft and the various experiments and nanosatellites carried by it.

NanoSail-D is a small solar-sail system, designed to unfurl into a relatively small square of thin polymer three days after separation from the FASTSAT carrier. High-velocity particles streaming through space will strike the "sail", producing a small amount of thrust.

In the case of NanoSail-D this thrust will be used to de-orbit the little craft, and cause it to re-enter the atmosphere sooner than it otherwise would have done. The idea is to prove that solar sails could be used to de-orbit larger satellites: at present this is done using conventional thrusters. That uses fuel, and so cuts into a satellite's operational life.

NASA controllers ordered the FASTSAT to deploy the NanoSail-D back on 6 December as planned. The door behind which the nanosat travelled opened, but it didn't come out. Now it appears to have ejected itself spontaneously. If the little module is working correctly, it will deploy its sail on Saturday. However, NASA engineers were initially unsure whether the tardy orbiter was functioning.

"We’re anxious to hear the beacon which tells us that NanoSail-D is healthy and operating as planned," said Dean Alhorn, top boffin on NanoSail-D, in a statement. "The science team is hopeful to see that NanoSail-D is operational and will be able to unfurl its solar sail."

The space agency appealed for help from radio enthusiasts in picking up the nanosat's beacon, broadcasting on 437.270 MHz. The NanoSail-D's location can be found here for those who want to try tuning in, and NASA asks that anything detected be reported to the NanoSail-D dashboard website here. The dashboard is now reporting that beacon signals have been picked up.

NASA boffins now seem confident that the NanoSail-D mission can proceed usefully, though the belated, spontaneous deployment seems likely to affect it adversely. In December, when the space agency thought deployment had happened as planned, Alhorn said:

"We had to carefully plan and calculate the ejection time, so we'd be lined up over the United States and our ground controllers to execute the next phase of the mission."

That planning would now appear to have gone awry.

There's more from NASA on NanoSail-D here. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
prev story

Whitepapers

Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Protecting against web application threats using SSL
SSL encryption can protect server‐to‐server communications, client devices, cloud resources, and other endpoints in order to help prevent the risk of data loss and losing customer trust.