Monday, January 24, 2011

"Tiny NASA Satellite Unfurls Solar Sail"

On the surface, solar sails seem like they would be so wimpy and ungainly that they would be impractical to use, and no depiction I've seen in science fiction movies or television seem to suggest that the writers even know what the technology is supposed to be like or do (especially with Count Dooku's piece of crap).

Yet, for some reason that I don't quite understand, I'm fascinated by the whole concept. And I'm almost giddy to read news like this:
The NanoSail-D satellite — which ejected from its mothership just this week, more than a month late — deployed its sail at about 10 p.m. EST yesterday (Jan. 20; 0300 GMT on Jan. 21) and is operating as planned. The unfurling marks the first time a NASA craft has ever opened a solar sail in low-Earth orbit, according to agency officials.

NanoSail-D, whose core is only the size of a loaf of bread, sent data home indicating that deployment of its 100-square-foot polymer sail had occurred. Ground-based satellite tracking efforts further confirmed the success, officials said.

"This is tremendous news and the first time NASA has deployed a solar sail in low-Earth orbit," said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and an aerospace engineer at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., in a statement.

NASA has asked for help in tracking NanoSail-D from the amateur ham-radio community, and the so-called "hams" delivered.

"To get to this point is an incredible accomplishment for our small team and I can't thank the amateur ham operator community enough for their help in tracking NanoSail-D," Alhorn said. "Their assistance was invaluable. In particular, the Marshall Amateur Radio Club was the very first to hear the radio beacon. It was exciting!"

Tremendous news, indeed.

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