Android phones power NASA satellites

What do you use to power a satellite? How about an Android smartphone?

What do you use to power a satellite? How about an Android smartphone?

PhoneSat is a project overseen by NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. However, it's not full of eye-wateringly expensive satellites reliant on advanced control systems -- instead, the aim is to lower the cost of satellites through smartphone technology, and allow any space enthusiast to launch their own devices.

The secret? Google's Android technology.

NASA's PhoneSat design uses off-the-shelf technology, including smartphones -- due to their fast processors, flexible operating systems, high-res cameras and GPS technology. The prototypes were built around a budget of $3,500, which includes the smartphone, batteries, radio beacon and watchdog circuits that monitor the machine.

The first model, PhoneSat 1.0, was built with bare and minimal functionality -- to see whether the satellite could survive a short stint in space while powered by a smartphone. This design is powered by a HTC Nexus One, running Android, and is able to take images and record its position in space through sensor technology.

It has been tested under varying conditions, including "thermal-vacuum chambers, vibration and shock tables, sub-orbital rocket flights and high-altitude balloons."

The second model, PhoneSat 2.0, has additional features, including solar panels, a GPS receiver and the functionality to be commanded from earth by a two-way radio. Powered by Samsung's Nexus S smartphone, the upgraded model is also equipped with electro-magnets that react to Earth's magnetic field.

Each NASA PhoneSat mini-satellite is one standard CubeSat unit in size -- weighing less than four pounds and measuring approximately 10cm.

Assembly of the nanosatellite

The PhoneSat project has operated since 2010. NASA hopes that the designs will become the "foundation for new capabilities for small-sized satellites while advancing breakthrough technologies and decreasing costs of future small spacecraft."

Later this year, three NASA PhoneSats systems (two PhoneSat 1.0's and one PhoneSat 2.0) will launch aboard the first flight of Orbital Sciences Corp's Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va.

Image credit: NASA


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