PASADENA, CA (Planetary Society PR) – The Planetary Society today announced the first of its LightSail spacecraft will embark on a May 2015 test flight. Funded entirely by private citizens, the solar sail satellite will hitch a ride to space aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission will test LightSail’s critical functions, a precursor to a second mission slated for 2016. That second flight will mark the first controlled, Earth-orbit solar sail flight and ride along with the first operational launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
Space News reports that NASA has canceled the Sunjammer solar sail mission:
Citing a lack of confidence in its contractor’s ability to deliver, NASA has abandoned plans to fly a solar-sail mission in 2015 after investing four years and more than $21 million on the project.
The Sunjammer mission, including the spacecraft and a deployable 1,200-square-meter solar sail, was being developed by L’Garde Inc. of Tustin, California, under a contract awarded in September 2011. The contract is slated to expire this coming December, and NASA has no plans to continue the work, according to an internal memo circulated at NASA headquarters here the week of Oct. 7.
“NASA is working with L’Garde to de-scope the existing contract to close out the documentation and deliver completed work to the Agency by the end of 2014,” the memo reads….
Nathan Barnes, president of L’Garde, said in an Oct. 17 phone interview that the company’s final delivery to NASA will be a design for a spacecraft module and solar sail that in theory could propel a small spacecraft by harnessing the energy of photon strikes. L’Garde will turn over its design in a Critical Design Audit scheduled for Nov. 7, he said.
PARIS (ESA PR) — When satellites reach the end of their working lives, they may pose a threat to other spacecraft as they continue to orbit in a dormant state for many decades. But now a new way to deorbit ageing satellites in a safe manner is nearing its first test in space.
In the future, satellites might carry a packaged ultra-lightweight ‘gossamer sail’ to open as they head towards retirement. The increased aerodynamic drag would pull the craft out of orbit to burn up in the high atmosphere, reducing the risk of catastrophic collisions and creating a sustainable space environment for future generations.
Tustin, Calif. (Sunjammer Mission PR) — Twelve students from Palm Middle School in Moreno Valley, Calif., joined the engineers and scientists at L’Garde, Inc. to present on solar sails and learn about NASA’s Sunjammer mission as part of its new Learning Center initiative, a program to engage students worldwide in the future of space travel.
Tustin, CA (Sunjammer Mission PR) — NASA officials, team partners, and local students were on hand to witness a key milestone for the Sunjammer Mission as it successfully deployed a quadrant of its solar sail – a critical design component that will eventually herald an era of propellantless spacecraft. Sunjammer will be the largest solar sail ever flown using photonic pressure (or sunlight) to maneuver in space.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The concept of a huge, ultra-thin sail unfurling in space, using the pressure of sunlight to provide propellant-free transport, hovering and exploration capabilities, may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but a NASA research team developing the Technology Demonstration Mission known as Sunjammer (a.k.a., In-Space Demonstration of a Mission-Capable Solar Sail) intend to prove the viability and value of the technology in 2014.
NASA PR — After spending more than 240 days “sailing” around the Earth, NASA’s NanoSail-D — a nanosatellite that deployed NASA’s first-ever solar sail in low-Earth orbit — has successfully completed its Earth orbiting mission.
Launched to space Nov. 19, 2010 as a payload on NASA’s FASTSAT, a small satellite, NanoSail-D’s sail deployed on Jan. 20.
The flight phase of the mission successfully demonstrated a deorbit capability that could potentially be used to bring down decommissioned satellites and space debris by re-entering and totally burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The team continues to analyze the orbital data to determine how future satellites can use this new technology.
NASA announced this week that the Planetary Societyâ€™s LightSail-1 solar sail mission is on their short list for upcoming launch opportunities. The missions selected are Cubesats destined for piggyback launches as part of NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative.
â€œThis is great news,â€ said Louis Friedman, Program Director for LightSail-1. â€œOur spacecraft will be ready this summer, and we are hoping for the earliest launch possible.â€
The Planetary Society, which has a solar sail mission of its own in the works, is taking a keen interest in NASA’s NanoSail-D spacecraft that successfully deployed earlier this week:
NASA has now confirmed that their NanoSail-D satellite has deployed its 100-square-foot sail in low-Earth orbit. The Planetary Societyâ€™s own solar sail project, LightSail-1, will soon be finished and ready for launch. Bill Nye, Executive Director of the Planetary Society, congratulated the NanoSail-D team on their achievement:
â€œCongratulations! Although NanoSail-D kept us waiting, we’re very pleased that it has successfully deployed,â€ said Nye. â€œThis could be the beginning of a fundamental improvement in how we de-orbit spacecraft.”
Friday, Jan. 21 at 10 a.m. EST, engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., confirmed that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite deployed its 100-square-foot polymer sail in low-Earth orbit and is operating as planned. Actual deployment occurred on Jan. 20 at 10 p.m. EST and was confirmed today with beacon packets data received from NanoSail-D and additional ground-based satellite tracking assets. In addition, the NanoSail-D orbital parameter data set shows an appropriate change which is consistent with sail deployment. (more…)
UPDATE: NanoSail-D has ejected — Beacon data has been received
NASA PROGRAM UPDATE
On Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 11:30 a.m. EST, engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., confirmed that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite ejected from Fast Affordable Scientific and Technology Satellite, FASTSAT. The ejection event occurred spontaneously and was identified this morning when engineers at the center analyzed onboard FASTSAT telemetry. The ejection of NanoSail-D also has been confirmed by ground-based satellite tracking assets.
Amateur ham operators are asked to listen for the signal to verify NanoSail-D is operating. This information should be sent to the NanoSail-D dashboard at: http://nanosaild.engr.scu.edu/dashboard.htm. The NanoSail-D beacon signal can be found at 437.270 MHz.
As upstart SpaceX was feted this week for the successful flight and recovery of its first Dragon spacecraft, engineers on three continents were puzzling out the reasons behind three high-profile failures in space, demonstrating anew the challenges associated with the difficult field.
In Russia, officials watched as a Proton rocket sent three navigational satellites to the bottom of the Pacific off Hawaii, delaying the nation’s efforts to provide full global coverage for its GLONASS program. Japanese engineers scratched their heads over why their Akatsuki probe ended up in orbit around the sun instead of Venus. And NASA is not quite sure what happened to an experimental solar sail satellite that blasted off into space from Alaska.
On Saturday, Nov. 20, FASTSAT made contact with ground stations at Svalbard, Norway and Kodiak, Alaska, and received commands from and communicated with mission controllers at the small satellite command center located at the Huntsville Operations and Science Control Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The satellite continues to function nominally as the commissioning phase of the mission continues.