An artist's concept of a solar sail in Earth orbit (Image: NASA)
The 3.9 x 3.9 x 14.9-inch NanoSail-D capsule
What looked like a failed mission has turned into an unexpected win for NASA with the successful deployment of the first-ever solar sail in low-Earth orbit. More than a month after the NanoSail-D nanosatellite failed to eject from its parent satellite, engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center were pleasantly surprised when the 3.9 x 3.9 x 14.9-inch unit spontaneously separated from the Fast Affordable Scientific and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT) last week. On January 20, after a timed three-day countdown, the ultra-thin, 100-square-foot polymer sail carried by the nanosatellite was unfurled 650 km above Earth where it will remain in orbit for up to 120 days.
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