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NASA Space Science

NASA Set To Launch Solar NanoSail Into Space 104

Posted by timothy
from the solar-powers-activate dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Earlier this year the Japanese space agency successfully deployed and used a solar sail to propel its spacecraft Ikaros, and now NASA announced plans this week for its own solar sail mission. This fall it will launch the NanoSail-D into orbit 400 miles up with a Minotaur IV rocket. Once deployed, it will orbit for 17 weeks, proving the technology and allowing astronomers to snap lots of photos."
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NASA Set To Launch Solar NanoSail Into Space

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  • Space tourists? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Is this all we are now, just "snapping lots of photos"?
    • Isn't it wonderful?

    • by ciderbrew (1860166) on Friday August 20, 2010 @05:40AM (#33311726)
      They are making the brochure first.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is this all we are now, just "snapping lots of photos"?

      Yeah the schools have been working on that for a long time now. We can't have real adventure like sending people into space to do new things anymore because someone could get hurt. We also can't encourage our best and brightest to dare to take risks and truly innovate because that might hurt the feelings of people who achieve less. Like those soccer games in the public schools where no one wins because merit-based competition might make someone who loses feel bad. So we snap lots of photos because that'

    • Re:Space tourists? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Friday August 20, 2010 @07:27AM (#33312028)

      It's a technology testbed, not a scientific instrument. That said, NASA and its affiliated institutions have probably done more science with photographs than most R&D departments have with million-dollar laboratories.

    • by bsDaemon (87307)

      Yeah, but NASA can do the mission in just one photo-snapping probe. The Japanese had to launch two so they could take pictures of each other taking pictures.

    • by GaryOlson (737642)
      Near Earth space is currently under environmental rehabilitation. Previous programs failed to understand the fragility of the space environment; and now we must restrain ourselves in our exploration in order to allow near Earth space to heal. You may take as many pictures as you like; but please do not leave the path. Many wonderful brochures are available in the gift shop with pictures taken by professionals. Thank you; and thank you for visiting our National Parks.
  • by damburger (981828) on Friday August 20, 2010 @05:26AM (#33311680)

    Nanosail D was originally to launch on one of the ill-fated Falcon 1 test flights, at which time it would have indeed been proving the technology. But now that JAXA have not only proved the technology, but applied it to interplanetary travel, it seems a bit moot.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      Yup, seriously NASA, you're an embarrassment. Stop dicking around in low earth orbit like some tawdry commercial entity, replace your management with actual scientists, and go out and see the universe up close.

      You want to prove the technology? Then send off an inster-stellar probe. Seriously, what are you waiting for, an invitation from Proxima Centauri?

      • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday August 20, 2010 @06:44AM (#33311920) Homepage Journal

        NASA have already sent five probes out of the solar system. Both pioneers, both voyagers and New Horizons. Thats a pretty good record IMHO.

        And before you use a solar sail in deep space it makes sense to test one in low earth orbit. Its cheaper that way.

        • by damburger (981828)
          It never makes sense to use a solar sail in LEO, because below about 800km or so altitude the drag force of the remnants of the atmosphere apply more pressure than sunlight does. Below 800km, you've not got a solar sail you've got a parachute.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by smallfries (601545)

            Unless your mission is designed to test the deployment of the sail, and the effect of the sail on de-orbiting the satellite when the mission is done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        So you think "real scientists" wouldn't see the need for this technology demonstration? Because in their highly scientific view they'd see no difference between this and what the Japanese did, and thus no need to test those non-existent differences?

        It's not NASA that's an embarrassment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thanshin (1188877)

      Proving new technology is just too risky.

      Reinventing the wheel is now a long term objective.

    • Maybe it's just me, but one flight hardly 'proves' much of anything. Doing something once is a stunt, and can happen by chance. Being able to do something repeatedly and reliably proves that it wasn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Nanosail D was originally to launch on one of the ill-fated Falcon 1 test flights, at which time it would have indeed been proving the technology. But now that JAXA have not only proved the technology, but applied it to interplanetary travel, it seems a bit moot.

      Not at all. If you don't want to actually use technology in space, but just want to get points for saying "I flew the first one," then one flight is fine. If you're actually going to use technology, though, a first demo flight is just the beginning of the development and testing stage, not the end. Pretty much everything about Nanosail D is mechanically and structurally different from the IKAROS sail; in terms of physics, they are similar, but in terms of technology, they are very different. IKAROS is h

      • by damburger (981828)

        IKAROS is capable of adjusting its attitude whilst spinning, through the use of LCD panels on the sail which subtly alter its albedo and thus the effect of light pressure, so you are wrong on at least that note.

        Of course IKAROS changes the situation. At the original launch date, the solar sail was an untried technology and thus NanoSail-D was innovative. Now the Japanese have a sail flying to Venus, a NASA solar sail mission should be updated based on what they have learned from IKAROS. Your analogy of hor

        • IKAROS is capable of adjusting its attitude whilst spinning, through the use of LCD panels on the sail which subtly alter its albedo and thus the effect of light pressure, so you are wrong on at least that note.

          I said IKAROS was not very maneuverable. "Subtly altering its albedo and thus the effect of light pressure" is a very good description of a vehicle that's not very maneuverable. There may be useful applications in which a not-very maneuverable sail is a good technology. Different applications need different technologies.

          Basically, IKAROS and Nanosail-D are quite different in the details of the technologies for sails. Apparently you think that once any sail has ever been deployed that every other approac

          • by damburger (981828)

            Unless you are building an orbital weapon system (or a telescope to catch transient astronomical events like GRBs) super fast attitude changes are not really needed.

            IKAROS is as maneuverable as any spacecraft realistically needs to be, and I promise you that future solar sails will be build using its attitude control method will be used over the 'bendy sails' method.

            Everything I have been taught about spacecraft design, by people who have all designed hardware used on orbit, says that you choose a solid sta

            • I am a great fan of no-moving-parts technologies. Nevertheless, from a lot of experience in the space world, I can tell you that it is not true that a technology with no moving parts is always the engineering choice over a technology with moving parts. There are many systems currently flying in space that do have moving parts, even though they could be redesigned, worse, using systems without moving parts. The correct solution is to use the technology that is best for the mission.

              The problem is that if y

    • It's not enough to known that the concept works, you have to demonstrate that your version works. Their satellite is not exactly the same as Ikaros, for example it uses a different deployment method.

      Think about it in terms of any other technology in existence, and bask in the obviousness.

  • by jfanning (35979) on Friday August 20, 2010 @05:32AM (#33311696) Homepage

    This seems to be almost exactly the same as the Planetary Society's LightSail project, http://www.planetary.org/programs/projects/solar_sailing/ [planetary.org]

    And I think that LightSail was started because NASA gave up on the NanoSail-D project. So what gives? Did NASA change their mind about this and what about the LightSail project?

  • "D" (Score:5, Informative)

    by nomad-9 (1423689) on Friday August 20, 2010 @05:55AM (#33311768)
    And here's the answer to the question everyone wants answered: What does "D" stand for?
    "We chose the 'D' in the name, not because it came after models A, B, and C, but because it can stand for demonstrate, deploy, drag, and/or de-orbit."
    - Edward "Sandy" Montgomery. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
  • Screw the solar. It's such a massive fragile structure and it has so low acceleration and minuscule force so it can only push/pull a small/light vessels. Why not test nuclear engines ? Are we so afraid of little nuclear radiation that will probably be undetectable because the earth is bombarded with so much radiation already ? The cold war is (kind of) over. We should stop fearing the *NucleaRrRr* (I just shit my pants) power and start using it to really take off our space programs. Chemical power is a joke
    • Re:Screw the solar (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday August 20, 2010 @06:27AM (#33311862) Homepage Journal

      Nuclear engines make less sense than you might think because they are limited by the amount of reaction mass you can carry. You might have enough fissile material to run a reactor for a year but only enough reaction mass for a day or so, at the very best, so most of the energy you are carrying is going to be lost.

      Solar sails work anywhere you have sun light and can easily work for years.

      Having said that I think there is an argument for using small fission reactors to power ion engines. A power plant like that could be used for a flight to Titan. The reactors could be similar to those use on submarines, so the technology would be mostly COTS.

      • Re:Screw the solar (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sockatume (732728) on Friday August 20, 2010 @07:31AM (#33312050)

        It's not widely appreciated, but honest-to-God nuclear reactors for satellites were developed during the cold war by both sides. The US only got as far as a solitary flight test AFAIK but I believe the USSR got some into operation. Quite an advantage in having a spy satellite with no solar panels.

      • Attach to an asteroid and mine reaction mass from that.
        • Well yeah but this is not like cruising around on Earth. If you want to get to Titan you won't find any asteroids going that way. So you have to kill your velocity. Mine reaction mass, then use the reaction mass to get going again. You might wind up with a net zero gain. Heading to Titan slowly with empty tanks.

      • I call bullshit on your post. Nuclear batteries can easily power a ship for 1-2 months,10-20 years, 100-200 years ... The whole advantage of nuclear batteries (which is what they're called, btw, you don't even seem to know the name) is their extremely long life. Furthermore, they have a half-time, so even after their theoretical lifetime (which is generally taken less than even 1 half time) they still provide quite a bit of power.

        And the total power they can provide is MUCH higher than solar panels (at lea

        • You mean radioisotope thermoelectric generators. Sure they are used but nuclear rockets generally mean something like the NERVA which is essentially a lightweight reactor with an open cooling circuit, which gives you rocket thrust. RTGs are stable technology. Very easy to handle. Just like the pile of caesium sources in the physics lab at college. NERVA engines give people nightmares. They are impossible to test properly on the ground, and dangerous for the crew.

          My suggestion is to use a fairly stock standa

      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        True but a Nuclear engine will also let you get more out of your fuel than basic chemical will, the most basic designs give substantially higher Specific Impulse as well as thrust
        • True but a Nuclear engine will also let you get more out of your fuel than basic chemical will, the most basic designs give substantially higher Specific Impulse as well as thrust

          First part true - even a basic NERVA can manage 800-900 seconds Isp.

          Second part false. Thrust from a nuclear rocket is pathetic compared to a chemical rocket. That same basic NERVA was rated at 15000 pounds thrust, as opposed, say, to the F1, which had 1,500,000 pounds thrust.

          Of course, an Orion qualifies as both "nuclear" and

          • Unless we need one to deal with an alien invasion, of course....

            Thats why those plans are tucked away...

      • The reactors could be similar to those use on submarines, so the technology would be mostly COTS.

        Umm, no. Submarine reactors depend on having an ocean around them to cool the secondary system (the part that generates electricity). Not many oceans between here and Saturn.

        • The reactors could be similar to those use on submarines, so the technology would be mostly COTS.

          Umm, no. Submarine reactors depend on having an ocean around them to cool the secondary system (the part that generates electricity). Not many oceans between here and Saturn.

          Yes you would need a cooling circuit with big radiator fins. Gets better as you move away from the sun.

          • Yes you would need a cooling circuit with big radiator fins. Gets better as you move away from the sun.

            And bigger generators, since most of the power from a Navy nuke is used to spin the screw. And pumps to push warm water through a HUGE radiator till it cools just enough to be pumped back into a steam generator. Note that the radiator can't be allowed to freeze up, either, so you'll need some way of emptying it when you want to shut down the reactor.

            And....

            In other words, doable, but not anywhere near

      • by rtbyte (1523785)
        Limited they are not. There is so much reaction mass in the solar system. Have You notice there are 8 planets plus planetoids plus hundreds of moons and asteroids ? Yea reaction mass could be even the moon dust. and You need just enough to accelerate and decelerate to say Mars. BTW how to You decelerate with solar sails ? You bring them down and wait for water friction to slow you ? Oh wait no water, but hey the cosmic particles and radiation might slow you , eventually, after few thousand years, may be, i
        • Sure but you have to stop to pick the reaction mass up and that wastes energy, time, and reaction mass.

          • by rtbyte (1523785)
            Waste energy You will. But plenty of energy You have ;) . You seemed to mindfully jump over my question "How do you decelerate the solar sail when You reach your destination". And I'm not speaking about some fictional 'other solar system' but inside our own. I really wander which mindless drones voted your comment +5 and would they want to strap them to a solar sail and let them fly to the 'next solar system' to decelerate ;)
    • Re:Screw the solar (Score:4, Informative)

      by strack (1051390) on Friday August 20, 2010 @07:01AM (#33311964)
      you fail to recognise the very important fact that solar sails do not use reaction mass, so theres no fuel tank to run empty, so a solar sail will have thrust, and control over its own trajectory, for as long as the sun shines. and that, my good sir, is a very long time.
      • by isopossu (681431)
        How about having a nuclear rocket with sails gathering particles for reaction mass?
      • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

        by silverpig (814884)
        Except it doesn't work when you get far away from the sun...
        • Yeah, but by that time you should have already gained enough speed that you don't need the constant thrust any more. Then you get to use the next star you get to for deceleration.

          • I believe the term you are struggling for is Bussard Ram - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bussard_ramjet [wikipedia.org]
            • Not really, no...

              I was thinking more 'solar sail'.

              • sorry, could have sworn i saw a comment in the thread about using the sail itself to capture reaction mass. That made me think to the ram. The ultimate use of these, of course, would be to add drag to a couple of comets (say one nickle-iron and the other H2O), and drop them into near-lunar orbit for processing (I would have said near-earth, but the idea of that would freak some people out), you could even use a sail as the mirror for the solar kiln to melt the ore. For those about to ask - the reason you w
                • That may be one of the technologies we use into the future, but the (comparatively) simple solar sail seems like a very good and very now technology for more deep space probes.

                  Also, it conjures up old-timey notions of sailors courageously sailing off into the unknown. Nothing but the stars to guide them, nothing but the wind to help them on their way. We can only hope to find land before our rations run out.

      • by rtbyte (1523785)
        Go to the NASA site and check the size of a sail needed to move a single manned craft. Then what was the formula - twice the distance 4 times less power ? Solar sail can be used on some small craft on an out of solar system mission which would last 100+ years. But for a human space flight or larger craft they are a joke. If you want to reasonably accelerate something bigger than a Kinder Surprise toy You will need a sail half the earth size (keep in mind that a highly scientific calculation so don't argue
  • japanese icarus? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ingilizdili (1882996)
    Why, in the first place, do eastern nations, developing or develop, adopt names from western culture. I believe the japanese have thousands of mythical characters of their own. ingilizdili [ingilizdili.net]
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I wasn't there so I may not be giving the subject the respect it deserves but the Japanese intentionally Americanized their culture (but conciously, and in pieces, not wholesale) after they suddenly developed a great deal of respect for us in WWII. You can see the careful deliberation in details down to the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture (presumably it was palatable due to the influence of Japanese architecture on Frank Lloyd Wright) and the colors and designs used in corporate logos adopted durin

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Friday August 20, 2010 @07:44AM (#33312084)
    Before reading TFA, an amusing idea of NASA sending a sail just 1 nm wide crossed my mind. After the can't be reaction, I though they are going to use nanometer thick sails, and wondered what they are made of? Graphene sheets maybe?

    Turned out that is not:

    NanoSail-D has a surface area of more than 100 square feet and is made of CP1, a polymer no thicker than single-ply tissue paper.

    Rrright... It's like... say... an ISP providing a "broadband package" with speed no lower than 56 kbps.

    Unless it is a helluva-lot thinner than a tissue paper, what's so Nano in this sail?

    • by GaryOlson (737642)
      The imagination of the people who designed it?
    • Unless it is a helluva-lot thinner than a tissue paper, what's so Nano in this sail?

      "Nano" is a Greek work meaning "tiny" or "dwarf".

      A nanosail would mean a tiny sail, or a "dwarf" sail.

      Unless you put the word "meter" or "gram" or some other quantitative suffix on the word, in which case it means 1E-9.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

      Typically 'nanosat' refers to small, inexpensive, quick to develop satellites. Normally its applied to cubesats and the like, but its not an unusual term to indicate that a spacecraft is a small, cheap tech demonstrator.

      As someone who works in the field the name is highly descriptive to me, and gives me a good deal of insight into the nature of the spacecraft.

  • Hmm, a gian, thin space sail that's probably several square miles. Boy, I sure hope one single little chunk of orbital debris or meteor doesn't impact that gigantic area in the 2 weeks or it won't work so well. Sails tend to not like meteors impacting them. Too bad the odds of that happening are about 99.99999%. I don't know what they're thinking.
    • Hmm, a gian, thin space sail that's probably several square miles. Boy, I sure hope one single little chunk of orbital debris or meteor doesn't impact that gigantic area in the 2 weeks or it won't work so well. Sails tend to not like meteors impacting them. Too bad the odds of that happening are about 99.99999%. I don't know what they're thinking.

      Actually, solar sails are almost completely unaffected by small impacts by micrometeoroids or debris. The micrometeoroids go right through. They do leave a hole, which reduces the area of the sail by a trivial amount, but sail areas are so large, and micrometeoroids so small, that it would take decades to centuries before the effective area loss reduces performance significantly.

      If a micrometeoroid impacts the struts or support structure, of course, that may be more of a problem, depending on how redunda

  • "One of the most difficult challenges solar sails face is trying to deploy enormous but fragile spacecraft from extremely small and compact structures. We can't just attach a giant, fully spread sail to a rocket and launch it into space. The journey would shred the sail to pieces," said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and aerospace engineer at the Marshall Center."

    Space is always described as "hostile" - since solar sails are believed by some to be the only feasible option for interstellar sp

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Anything with a good surface area to mass ratio makes a good solar sail. Reflectivity is a plus since you actually get more motion out of it, but it's not required. So you could imagine some kind of spines which ooze with a self-patching material like a self-patching tire, growing a flat plane of tiny whiskers that serve as the sail area. I mean, if you've read enough science-fiction, or are just imaginative enough. Right now, though, our technology lends itself more to unfurling sheets of stuff. Or maybe w

  • What the heck does this have to do with making the Mislims feel good about themselves?

"Out of register space (ugh)" -- vi

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