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 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm (11.8 in × 3.9 in × 3.9 in) with a mass of 4 kg (8.8 lb).[3] Its solar sail had an area of 10 m2 (110 sq ft),[3] and was deployed in around five seconds.

NanoSail-D in orbit (artist depiction).jpg
Mission typeTechnology
COSPAR ID2010-070L
SATCAT no.37361
Mission duration240 days
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type3U CubeSat
ManufacturerNASA Ames Research Center
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Launch mass4 kg (8.8 lb)
Dimensions30 cm × 10 cm × 10 cm (11.8 in × 3.9 in × 3.9 in)
PowerSolar cells and batteries
Start of mission
Launch date20 November 2010, 01:25 UTC
RocketMinotaur IV / HAPS
Launch siteKodiak Launch Complex, 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 orbit[2]
RegimeLow Earth orbit
Perigee altitude615 km (382 mi)
Apogee altitude648 km (403 mi)
Period97.34 minutes

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 17 January 2011, it ejected on its own and deployed its sail three days later on 20 January 2011. The beacon signal began transmitting after ejection and was first received on the afternoon of 19 January 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 launch vehicle malfunctioned during stage separation. Over the next two years improvements were made to the spare,[4] and the satellite was incorporated into the FASTSAT mission.

NanoSail-D2 was launched aboard a Minotaur IV / HAPS launch vehicle, 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.[5] 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 km (400 mi) of altitude and 72° of inclination. NanoSail-D2 was expected to separate from FASTSAT on 6 December 2010, but the bay door did not open, preventing its ejection.[6] 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.[7] They did and picked up the 1-second beacon transmissions which were transmitted every 10 seconds.[8] While battery power was soon exhausted, as predicted by the principal investigator, Dean Alhorn,[9] 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.[10]

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 US$500 to capture images of the solar sail in orbit.[11]

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "NASA's Nanosail-D 'Sails' Home -- Mission Complete". Archived from the original on 1 December 2011. Retrieved 2 December 2011.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ "Satellite Catalog". Jonathan's Space Report. Archived from the original on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b "NanoSail D". Gunter's Space Page. Archived from the original on 1 June 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  4. ^ "Sailing Among the Stars". NASA. 17 August 2010. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 20 November 2010.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Issue 635". Jonathan's Space Report. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  6. ^ "NanoSail-D Dashboard". Santa Clara University. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  7. ^ "NASA - NanoSail-D Ejects: NASA Seeks Amateur Radio Operators' Aid to Listen for Beacon Signal". Archived from the original on 22 January 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2011.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  8. ^ "Success! NanoSail-D Deploys". 21 January 2011. Archived from the original on 25 January 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
  9. ^ Stephen Clark (22 January 2011). "NASA's first solar sail makes unlikely comeback in orbit". Spaceflight Now. Archived from the original on 25 January 2011. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  10. ^ "NASA's First Solar Sail NanoSail-D Deploys in Low-Earth Orbit". Archived from the original on 6 April 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2011.
  11. ^ "NanoSail D". Archived from the original on 21 June 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2011.

External linksEdit

  • 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