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NASA Solar Sail Lost In Space 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the never-to-sail-again dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to Spaceflight Now: 'NASA has not heard from the experimental NanoSail-D miniature solar sail in nearly a week, prompting officials to wonder if the craft actually deployed from a larger mother satellite despite initial indications it ejected as designed.' NanoSail-D's spring-ejection was indicated at 1:31 a.m. EST Monday, leading to a predicted release of the spacecraft's sail membrane around 1:30 a.m. EST Thursday."
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NASA Solar Sail Lost In Space

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  • Long gone (Score:5, Funny)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @05:37PM (#34530518) Homepage Journal

    Maybe it worked too well -D

  • Reason (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 12, 2010 @05:37PM (#34530520)
    The reason it was lost is that it forgot to tack in a particularly bad solar wind.
  • by DamonHD (794830) <d@hd.org> on Sunday December 12, 2010 @05:40PM (#34530528) Homepage

    Bad luck on losing the sail. I had some tiny direct extra stake in the Planetary Soc's solar sail attempts and still have a little on their latest as a member. I'd really like to see this work as it seems so much more elegant than just throwing more chemicals at space travel.

    Reminds us that not much in space is routine; indeed it's still rocket science.

    Rgds

    Damon

    • Re:FASTSAT Post (Score:5, Informative)

      by david.given (6740) <dg@[ ]lark.com ['cow' in gap]> on Sunday December 12, 2010 @06:58PM (#34530794) Homepage Journal

      All is not lost; JAXA's IKAROS is doing just fine. According to their blog (no link because accurséd Slashdot won't let me paste into text boxes) it did a flyby of Venus a few days ago and is now on its way... nowhere in particular (as a propulsion testbed it's more important that it is going than where it goes). But they've demonstrated deployment, acceleration, attitude control and power generation; it's now a fully functional interplanetary spacecraft powered purely by the sun.

      Of course, given that its tiny solar sail produces a thrust of about 1mN, which given IKAROS' 300kg mass comes out at about 3 um/s^2 or approximately 0.0000003g, I don't think it'll be blazing across the solar system any time soon; but it does show that the whole principle works. Now we need a full size one (and JAXA's planning a solar sail-powered Jupiter missing in the late 2010s).

      • and JAXA's planning a solar sail-powered Jupiter missing in the late 2010s

        I think a solar sail mission to Mercury would be a far better idea.

      • by oobayly (1056050)

        Now we need a full size one

        Sure, but what about all the extra drag a really big solar sail will have?

        • by Mordie (1943326)
          space has no atmosphere, thus infinitesimal resistance, infinitesimal drag, only problem is that you cannot use them to go towards the sun, unfortunatly
          • Re:FASTSAT Post (Score:5, Informative)

            by Kell Bengal (711123) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @11:45PM (#34531874)

            you cannot use them to go towards the sun, unfortunatly

            Not true at all! Due to the way that orbital mechanics works, you can use a solar sail to travel anywhere in orbit. If you tilt your solar sail so that the deflection of light occurs at an angle to the oncoming photons, you can produce a net force on the spacecraft retrograde to your orbital path. This slows your orbital velocity, causing you to spiral inward towards the star. To stabilise your orbit or to head outwards in a transfer orbit, you can tilt back the other way to apply prograde force.

            It's a simple and elegant means of getting around space. The only real problem is that it's a tremendously slow way of traveling across orbital distances.

            • It's a simple and elegant means of getting around space. The only real problem is that it's a tremendously slow way of traveling across orbital distances.

              As the esteemed Dr. Jerry Pournelle once said to me (we were discussing the possibility of using spaceborne lasers made out of ice) Slow isn't a problem - if it takes ten years to get from the asteroid belt to Earth, send one per year and after ten years you get one per year for life.

          • by oobayly (1056050)

            Is it bad etiquette to woosh a reply to one's own comment?

      • accurséd Slashdot won't let me paste into text boxes

        This is not a Slashdot problem (well, as far as I know it's not). This problem only seems to occur when using Chrome (it works with IE and Firefox - don't know about other browsers). The Chrome project is aware of this (I have no idea when/if they will fix it).

        • by eleuthero (812560)
          I've had problems with it in general on OS X lately (Firefox, Safari, and Chrome).
        • I think its in WebKit because Safari has the same problem now.

          You can still cut-n-paste if you don't use HTML in your comment box. Meaning, do all the cut and paste first then do the HTML markup.

          Still a stupid bug, but I assume it was put there to stop a vulnerability.

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        Also note that it took JAXA a few failed tries before managing to deploy correctly a solar sail. The fact that NASA failed its first one does not strike me as very surprising. What I find surprising however is that they don't seem to use the Japanese experience very much to prevent these failures...
      • by Thelasko (1196535)

        JAXA's IKAROS is doing just fine. According to their blog... it did a flyby of Venus a few days ago and is now on its way

        That's great news! Unfortunately, the only article I could find was in Japanese. [google.com]

      • by asvravi (1236558)

        Weird.. I am able to paste.. infact this is my email hash 3b31fe778a4e91b2aca116e84a144285 pasted in.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 12, 2010 @05:41PM (#34530534)

    ... Solar Fail!

    Ha ha! Ha ha! ... *vomits*

  • by sourcerror (1718066) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @05:42PM (#34530542)

    Gone with the (solar) wind

  • While setbacks are inevitable it doesn't mean that scientists should not keep trying.
  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @05:48PM (#34530574)
    "Weird solar sail with "NASA" written on it found"
  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Sunday December 12, 2010 @05:52PM (#34530582) Homepage

    They're always stealing or breaking our stuff, those jerks.

  • by confused one (671304) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @06:15PM (#34530654)
    Sad when an internet meme is so appropriate... So they had a microswitch that says it deployed. Why not put a small camera on one or both to provide some visual feedback? It is an experimental deployment of (1) a cubesat from a microsat, and (2) an experimental sail membrane, yes? How would they know, for certain, that it deployed correctly if there are no pics? Given how small cameras are today, it seems like a no-brainer.
    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      I was going to post this same thing.

      Also, why wasnt this done near the ISS so that *it* could have had a good look at what was going on, with maybe even a possible spacewalk to retrieve and examine a failure.
    • Cameras may be small but they still weigh something. Setting aside the need for them to transmit footage, the main concern with any spacecraft - but particularly sails - is the mass you're pushing around.
    • Weight and telemetry (Score:5, Informative)

      by mangu (126918) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @07:21PM (#34530910)

      Given how small cameras are today, it seems like a no-brainer.

      Perhaps the name "NanoSail-D" will give a hint on how small this satellite is.

      However, the camera size itself is not all that matters. In order to send telemetry down there must exist a telemetry transmitter on board. It might surprise you to know that even large satellites often transmit telemetry at 1 kbps or so.

      Transmitting wide band, such as needed by a video signal, requires higher power. Sending high power down needs a bulkier and heavier transmitter. More power in the telemetry beacon requires more DC power, which means bigger batteries and bigger solar panels.

      These are the two main constraints in a spacecraft: mass and consumed power. Every piece of equipment on board must be screened for these two parameters, nothing is included unless it's absolutely certain that it couldn't be done with less mass and less power.

      • by careysub (976506) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @08:07PM (#34531102)

        Given how small cameras are today, it seems like a no-brainer.

        Perhaps the name "NanoSail-D" will give a hint on how small this satellite is.

        However, the camera size itself is not all that matters. In order to send telemetry down there must exist a telemetry transmitter on board. It might surprise you to know that even large satellites often transmit telemetry at 1 kbps or so.

        Transmitting wide band, such as needed by a video signal, requires higher power. Sending high power down needs a bulkier and heavier transmitter. More power in the telemetry beacon requires more DC power, which means bigger batteries and bigger solar panels.

        ...

        The camera would not be on the "NanoSail-D", it would be on the mother satellite FASTSAT which weighs 148 kg. How much does a simple solid state camera weigh these days? It couldn't be more than several grams I would think. And what's this about a "video signal"? To confirm satellite deployment they would need only one single still frame which would only be transmitted if they needed it. And so what if it takes a dayor two to transmit the image along with its other data streams? They are going to be wondering about this for months or years.

        • How much does a simple solid state camera weigh these days?

          Why, hardly anything at all!

          Oh, wait - you mean you want one rated for vacuum, extremes of hot and cold, radiation outside of an atmosphere and G-loading/vibration tolerance to launch conditions? Hmm... let me ask Raytheon and get back to you...

          • by c6gunner (950153)

            Those things are a necessity when the camera is a mission-critical piece of kit that needs to survive and function perfectly for a couple years; they're just a nice-to-have when the camera is meant to take pictures - which you probably won't even need - bare minutes after achieving orbit.

            • Most current cameras as you describe would dissolve into tiny little bits before it clears the launch tower. The acoustic feedback alone will probably kill it.

              • by tibit (1762298)

                A "current" camera is essentially a chip the size of a SO-8, a small cast lens retainer that's attached to the PCB, and the lens -- everything fits in under a cubic centimeter. It'd take tremendous accelerations to "dissolve it into tiny bits" -- if the camera would disintegrate, there would be nothing left of the rocket. F=m*a after all, with m on the order of a gram.

                If you go for a pinhole, it'd be even simpler -- the pinhole and enclosure (light shield) are a little cast piece that can be bonded to the P

            • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Monday December 13, 2010 @09:55AM (#34533570) Homepage

              Those things are a necessity when the camera is a mission-critical piece of kit ...

              Not really true - it only takes one piece of non launch-rated equipment to mess up the whole works. Imagine it shorting out or breaking into a zillion pieces on launch and getting into the science instruments.

              Your idea would work if it were physically and electrically separated from the main payload, but that would entail a lot of extra weight.

              The microswitch probably did its job - the sat probably moved enough to trigger that. The fact that no amateur satellite watchers [satobs.org] have seen it and the Air Force hasn't found it with radar are good indications that it hung up on deploy.

              • by c6gunner (950153)

                Not really true - it only takes one piece of non launch-rated equipment to mess up the whole works. Imagine it shorting out or breaking into a zillion pieces on launch and getting into the science instruments.

                Sure, placement matters. Imagine if a baguette were to be dropped on a part of the LHC. Not sure how a solid-state camera would break though.

            • by SETIGuy (33768)

              On NASA missions, it's unlikely that they would allow even a "nice to have but not mission critical" camera to be of low reliability. Management is very wary of the word "failure" even if it is failure of a non-critical piece. Management would push for it either to be fully qualified for the duration of the mission, or they would push to have it removed as unnecessary and not worth the risk to the mission.

              Imagine what would happen if the camera broke into pieces on ascent and one of the pieces punctured

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 12, 2010 @07:46PM (#34531054)

      God damn it, you're right. I wish they hired people like you at NASA, instead of those brain dead twits. A camera? Brilliant. No one ever thought of that. Thank god for /. armchair rocket scientists!

    • by Animats (122034)

      Yes. NASA's claimed purpose for this launch was to "test NASA's ability to deploy a massive but fragile spacecraft from an extremely compact structure." It wasn't capable of sailing anywhere; it was placed into such a low orbit that atmospheric drag would bring it down in about four months. Now they have to do the whole project again (or give up) without having learned much from this failure. While there's a weight, power, and data storage penalty for having a camera, it's far cheaper to add one than t

      • by Brett Buck (811747) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @10:11PM (#34531540)

        Well, sort of. But supplying a sufficient downlink and the associated extra weight and power just for a mechanism check that is generally trivial to verify with limit switches or break wires might have put the entire thing in jeopardy of never launching in the first place. Note that the deployment test proper was a full day after separation. Separating it wasn't part of the test.

                If the limit switch/breakwire showed it ejected, the overwhemling likelihood is that it did that - and then failed to come alive 24 hours later when it was supposed to. Could have deployed properly and just had a telemetry failure, that's at least as likely as anything else, and for a nano-sat on a very short mission it's pretty unlikely to have any more than a single-string system for anything, so no redundancy.

              Brett

    • Why not put a small camera on one or both to provide some visual feedback?

      Because every gram of mass is expensive and hindsight is 20/20.

    • Have you ever been shopping for cameras that are capable of surviving more than a day of space radiation? How about buying the video encoder for it and getting your extra data traffic through the transmitter on the thing you hurled into space? You're going to be spending millions just to watch a few minutes of a deployment that either works, or it doesn't.

      You already know what it's going to look like if it works, so for that occasion, using a microswitch will suffice. The only reason why you might want t
      • by tibit (1762298)

        There are two aspects of space radiation: errors and cumulative damage. When you shop for mission-critical equipment, especially for the control computers, you want them to work just fine in spite of radiation. For a camera like that: who cares if there are upsets in individual pixels periodically, or if it becomes noisier after a few days. COTS laptops work just fine on IST, and it's hardly a radiation-tight environment, so I think that the space buffs here who are used to $1E6 through $1E8 price tags for

  • by jandoedel (1149947) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @06:39PM (#34530728)
    Solar sails are not exactly rocket science...
  • I've lost me satellite!
  • Spring ejection? Outer space? Wouldn't be the first time the obvious slipped right by NASA.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by camperdave (969942)
      Well, the fact that the nano-sail was NOT a solar sail, but was essentially a parachute for slowing down a satellite in the thin, thin remnants of atmosphere at Low Earth Orbit altitudes seems to have slipped by the journalists and the fine people at Slashdot.

      ... or are you saying that a spring ejection won't happen for a few months?
  • Is there a Dr Smith on the project team?

  • I've always thought that every satellite/ship/station should be deigned with some kind of slow drive system and/or quick "death release" system that would cause them to fire out and land on or near the same spot on the moon. Then when/if moon bases/operations were a go you would have a huge stockpile of recycle materials to get you going. I'm sure the logistics are insane, but it seems even some kind of "bag it and sling it" system to shift orbital debris into a usable stockpile of stuff would make sense.

    Of

  • It ws only supposed to be a three hour tour.

  • ...sail off into the sunset
  • If pound-force was good enough for the Baby Jesus, it should be good enough for NASA. What the hell is a Newton anyway - some kind of French furry fetish?
    • Considering 'force' was first described by newton, that may cast doubt on whether pound-force was good enough for baby jesus. 'pound' weight measures aren't in the bible either, just bekas, schekles, minas, pims, gerahs and talents.
      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        In your heathen tract, maybe. In mine, the original American one, the Baby Jesus speaks English, weighs in pounds, pays in dollars and cents, and drives a Ford. Which produces horsepower and does miles to the gallon.
  • They've modeled what they believe happened, using a mallard-based simulator:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEBLt6Kd9EY [youtube.com]

  • Dr. Zachary Smith does it again!
  • DO we not have 1 million webcams everywhere, and does not everyone have routers now that can send info back and forth within a network, could they not have attached a camera to view things, from both the sail and the deployment capsule, and also add some sort of beacon to transmit data as if to say, we do not trust things will go perfectly, so we will add some way of visually confirming everything did go ok...???

    • by anyGould (1295481)

      It's already been covered multiple times above, but here's the tl;dr version: it's freakin' expensive to get stuff in orbit, so nothing goes up unless it absolutely has to.

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