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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

NASA Launches Space Kite into Orbit

 (CANVAS STAFF REPORTS) - Something the size of a loaf of bread has been launched into space, helping to chart NASA's future.
NASA announced that it ejected a nanosatellite from a free-flying microsatellite on Monday. The NanoSail-D, ejected from the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite or FASTSAT, will demonstrate how a small cubesat payload can be deployed from an independent satellite in space.
Nanosatellites, also called cubesats, are usually deployed from a mechanism called a Poly-PicoSatellite Orbital Deployer mounted directly on a launch vehicle. FASTSAT was launched on Nov. 19 with the NanoSail-D inside.
The launch and ejection are just the first few steps. The UK Wired website said in three days it will become a massive space kite as a 100-square-foot solar sail unfurls from within it. The sail is made from a thin polymer material thinner than a single human hair.
The sail will deploy about 400 miles above the Earth and stay in orbit 70 to 120 days before spiraling down and burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.
The NanoSail-D is part of NASA's Small Missions program, which NPR said includes satellites between 2-440 pounds.
The launch is a test for future projects.
"The successful ejection of NanoSail-D demonstrates the operational capability of FASTSAT as a cost-effective independent means of placing cubesat payloads into orbit safely," Mark Boudreaux, FASTSAT project manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in the NASA release.
He said it shows different types of payloads can be deployed this way.
UK Wired said success would also show that NASA could use these sails to turn solar power into a propulsion system. It is something NASA has worked on since a small sail was developed in 2001.
NASA is behind as Japan's IKAROS became the first spacecraft to demonstrate solar sail technology in June. The unmanned craft, which has a 66-foot square polyimide sail, is on its way to Venus then will head towards the sun.
For NASA the technology is a cost-effective way to get spacecraft safely into orbit

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