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NASA Seeks Amateur Radio Operators’ Aid to Listen for Nanosatellite’s Beacon Signal


On Wednesday, January 19 at 1630 UTC, engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama confirmed that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite ejected from Fast Affordable Scientific and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT). According to NASA, the ejection event occurred spontaneously and when engineers at Marshall identified and analyzed onboard FASTSAT telemetry; the ejection of NanoSail-D also has been confirmed by ground-based satellite tracking assets. NASA is asking radio amateurs to listen on 437.270 MHz for the signal and verify NanoSail-D is operating. Hams should send information to the NanoSail-D dashboard.

NASA said that the NanoSail-D science team is hopeful the nanosatellite is healthy and can complete its solar sail mission. “This is great news for our team,” said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and aerospace engineer at the Marshall Center. “We’re anxious to hear the beacon which tells us that NanoSail-D is healthy and operating as planned. The science team is hopeful to see that NanoSail-D is operational and will be able to unfurl its solar sail.” As of Thursday, January 20, the NanoSail-D dashboard is reporting that beacon data has been received, but NASA still wants amateurs to track and report the signals.

On December 6, 2010, NASA triggered the planned ejection of NanoSail-D from FASTSAT. At that time, the team confirmed that the door successfully opened and data indicated a successful ejection. Upon further analysis, however, the team found no evidence of NanoSail-D in low-Earth orbit (LEO), leading them to believe NanoSail-D remained inside FASTSAT. The FASTSAT mission has continued to operate as planned with the five other scientific experiments operating nominally.

“We knew that the door opened and it was possible that NanoSail-D could eject on its own,” said FASTSAT Project Manager Mark Boudreaux. What a pleasant surprise [we had Wednesday morning] when our flight operations team confirmed that NanoSail-D is now a free flyer.”

If the deployment is successful, NASA said that NanoSail-D will stay in LEO between 70 and 120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions. NanoSail-D is designed to demonstrate deployment of a compact solar sail boom system that could lead to further development of this alternative solar sail propulsion technology and FASTSAT’s ability to eject a nanosatellite from a micro-satellite -- while avoiding re-contact with the FASTSAT satellite bus.  -- Thanks to NASA for the information



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