NanoSail-D in orbit (artist depiction).jpg
Mission typeTechnology
COSPAR ID2010-062L
SATCAT no.37361Edit this on Wikidata
Mission duration240 days
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type3U CubeSat
Launch mass4 kilograms (8.8 lb)
Start of mission
Launch date20 November 2010, 01:25 (2010-11-20UTC01:25Z) UTC
RocketMinotaur IV/HAPS
Launch siteKodiak Pad 1
ContractorOrbital Sciences
Deployed fromFASTSAT
Deployment dateCommanded: 3 December 2010
Occurred: 17 January 2011
End of mission
Decay date17 September 2011[1]
Orbital parameters
Reference systemGeocentric
RegimeLow Earth[2]
Perigee altitude615 kilometers (382 mi)
Apogee altitude648 kilometers (403 mi)
Inclination71.97 degrees
Period97.34 minutes
Epoch22 February 2011[3]

NanoSail-D2 was a small satellite built by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Ames Research Center to study the deployment of a solar sail in space. It was a three-unit CubeSat, measuring 30×10×10 centimetres (11.8×3.9×3.9 in) with a mass of 4 kilograms (8.8 lb).[4] Its solar sail had an area of 10 square meters (110 sq ft),[4] and was deployed in around five seconds.

It was planned to be deployed from the FASTSAT satellite around 3 December 2010, two weeks after launch. The satellite did not eject at that time, but on January 17, 2011, it ejected on its own and deployed its sail three days later on the 20th. The beacon signal began transmitting after ejection and was first received on the afternoon of January 19, 2011.


NanoSail-D2 was originally built as a ground spare for the NanoSail-D satellite, which was launched aboard a Falcon 1 in 2008, and was subsequently lost when the rocket malfunctioned during stage separation. Over the next two years improvements were made to the spare,[5] and the satellite was incorporated into the FASTSAT mission.

NanoSail-D2 was launched aboard a Minotaur IV/HAPS rocket, inside the FASTSAT satellite. FASTSAT was a secondary payload on the launch, with the primary payload being STPSat-2. The launch also carried RAX, O/OREOS, FalconSat-5, and the two FASTRAC satellites; Sara-Lily and Emma. The Minotaur was launched from Launch Pad 1 of the Kodiak Launch Complex at 01:25 UTC on 20 November 2010.[6] Orbital Sciences Corporation conducted the launch under a contract with the United States Air Force.

FASTSAT was deployed into a low Earth orbit with a circular orbit of 650 kilometers (400 mi) of altitude and 72 degrees of inclination. NanoSail-D2 was expected to separate from FASTSAT on December 6, but the bay door did not open, preventing its ejection.[7] Successful ejection was confirmed on 19 January 2011; it is unclear what caused the ejection mechanism to fail and then ultimately release at this later date. NASA requested amateur radio operators listen for the beacon signal from NanoSail-D.[8] They did and picked up the 1-second beacon transmissions which were transmitted every 10 seconds.[9] While battery power was soon exhausted, as predicted by the principal investigator, Dean Alhorn,[10] the spacecraft was expected to sail on in low-Earth orbit for 70 to 120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions, before it burnt up, and to become easier to view after the atmosphere stabilized its tumbling.[11]

To generate publicity and to encourage observations while the sail was still in orbit, NASA and announced a photography competition with a grand prize of $500 to capture images of the solar sail in orbit.[12]

On September 17, 2011, the solar sail re-entered the atmosphere after 240 days in orbit, though this was only announced on November 29, 2011.[1]

See also

  • NanoSail-D, the failed predecessor to NanoSail-D2, launched in August 2008
  • IKAROS, a Japanese solar sail, launched in May 2010
  • LightSail 2, a controlled solar sail CubeSat launched in July 2019
  • CubeSail (UltraSail), a sail technology demonstration launched in 2018.
  • Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, a solar sail CubeSat planned to launch in 2020
  • CubeSail, a planned cubesat sail mission
  • Sunjammer, a solar sail that was cancelled before launch in 2014


  1. ^ a b "NASA's Nanosail-D 'Sails' Home -- Mission Complete". Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  2. ^ "NanoSail-D - Orbit Data". Heavens Above.[dead link]
  3. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Satellite Catalog". Jonathan's Space Page. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "NanoSail D". Gunter's Space Page. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  5. ^ "Sailing Among the Stars". NASA. 17 August 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  6. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Issue 635". Jonathan's Space Report. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  7. ^ "NanoSail-D Dashboard". Santa Clara University. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Stephen Clark (January 22, 2011). "NASA's first solar sail makes unlikely comeback in orbit". Spaceflight Now.
  11. ^ "NASA's First Solar Sail NanoSail-D Deploys in Low-Earth Orbit". Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  12. ^ "NanoSail D". Retrieved 25 January 2011.

External links

  • NASA NanoSail-D Mission page
  • NanoSail-D dashboard
  • Twitter page
  • An index of images by astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh created with a telescope mounted camera.
  • information about NanoSail-D2 on