Early in December last year, NASA’s experimental FASTSAT (Fast Affordable Science and Technology Satellite) microsatellite was launched into orbit from a private facility on Kodiak island in Alaska. FASTSAT is built as a research platform, and has the ability to launch smaller nanosatellites. One of these was NanoSail-D, intended to study the design and operation of solar sails in orbit and on 6 December, mission controllers triggered it’s ejection into space. Although data indicated a succesful ejection, the the team could not find nanosatellite in orbit, leading them to suspect that it lay dormant, still in its pod.
Yesterday morning, more than a month later, FASTSAT telemetry reported that NanoSail-D had suddenly sprung free, and was now succesfully launched. Even though the tiny satellite is only the size of a load of bread, ground-based satellite tracking stations have managed to spot it and confirm that it is now orbiting Earth. If it has not been damaged by whatever caused it to stick, then in three days time it will extend its sails and begin the experiment. Meanwhile, missions scientists have appealed to the ham radio community to help confirm that the little machine is still alive, by listening for its radio beacon which transmits at 437.270 MHz. If you are a ham operator and have managed to record the signal, you can submit your data here: http://nanosaild.engr.scu.edu/dashboard.htm