A folded solar sail was ejected from a small NASA satellite on Monday, demonstrating a significant success in NASA’s attempts to develop and install solar-sail technology. The ejected device is called NanoSail-D, and is approximately the size of a loaf of bread. It was launched by a FASTSAT satellite.
The 100-square foot sail attached to NanoSail-D is expected to unfurl within the next few days. If the sail is a success, NASA hopes to use this newly developed technology to bring old satellites down from Earth’s orbit without wasting expensive propellant. The sail is meant to use solar radiation as “wind,” which will get caught in the solar sail and propel the spacecraft effortlessly. It is made out of a polymer material which is thinner than human hair.
Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator as well as aerospace engineer said that “this is a great step for our solar sail team with the successful ejection of the NanoSail-D satellite from FASTSAT.”