NASA NanoSail-D, a 3U cubesat with solar sails
NanoSail-D is a small satellite used by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and Ames Research Center to study the deployment of a solar sail in space. It is a three-unit CubeSat measuring 30 by 10 by 10 centimetres (12 × 3.9 × 3.9 inches), with a mass of 4 kilograms (8.8 lb). Its solar sail has an area of 10 square metres (110 sq ft) and was deployed in around five seconds.
NanoSail-D was expected to separate from FASTSAT satellite on December 6. Although the bay door opened, ejection did not occur. Successful ejection was confirmed on 19 January 2011. It is unclear what caused the ejection mechanism to fail and then ultimately release the cubesat at this later date. NASA requested amateur radio operators listen for the beacon signal from NanoSail-D. They did and picked up the 1 second beacon transmissions which were transmitted every 10 seconds. While battery power was soon exhausted, as predicted by the principal investigator, Dean Alhorn, the spacecraft will sail on in low-Earth orbit for 70 to 120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions, before it burns up. It will be most easy to view after the atmosphere stabilizes its tumbling. To generate publicity and to encourage observations, while the sail is still in orbit, NASA and Spaceweather.com have announced a photography competition with a grand prize of $500 to capture images of the solar sail in orbit.