NASA’s solar sail is missing in action and now the space agency
is questioning whether or not it was ever released.
The NanoSail-D, an 8.5-pound satellite carrying
the solar sail, was supposed to be ejected from the Fast, Affordable, Science
and Technology Satelliter (FASTSAT) on Monday, December 6. The FASTSAT launched
November 19 from the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska on a Minotaur 4 rocket.
NASA had anticipated that three days after being deployed from the
FASTSAT, the satellite would trigger a timer prompting an automatic
command to unleash a folded-up 100 square foot polymer sail
from the experimental spacecraft. However, the Nano-Sail-D now appears to be
On Friday, NASA posted an update indicating, "it is not
clear" that the sail was ever deployed.
"At the time of ejection, spacecraft telemetry data showed a
positive ejection as reflected by confirmation of several of the planned on
orbit ejection sequence events," a statement from the website read. "The
FASTSAT spacecraft ejection system data was also indicative of an ejection
NanoSail-D was mounted in a P-POD ejection apparatus inside FASTSAT,
and while P-PODs are generally used to release CubeSat spacecraft from launch
vehicles, NanoSail-D was set to become the first CubeSat to separate
from a microsatellite.
Spring-loaded guide booms were expected to eject from the
device. The sail was then supposed to expand five seconds later into a
Propelled by light from the sun, NanoSail-D was developed to stay in
orbit around the Earth for up to three months. After that, it would drop
from orbit and burn up in the planet's atmosphere.
to the statement on its website, NASA will continue to troubleshoot
and attempt to make contact with NanoSail-D. Updates can be found on the
NanoSail-D dashboard and on Twitter.
Japan’s solar sail mission, Ikaros, successfully reached Venus this summer
and solar sail mission Akatsuki attempted to orbit Venus early this