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NASA PhoneSats in Orbit – A “Ringing” Success

The PhoneSats are roughly the size of a coffee cup. Courtesy: AMSAT-UK

Graham PhoneSat Images of Earth. Courtesy: NASA Ames Research Center

NASA’s Smartphone Nanosatellite mission is underway. Now circling the Earth are Alexander, Graham and Bell!

The trio of smartphones rode to space April 21 aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

The PhoneSats that are operating in orbit may prove to be the lowest-cost satellites ever flown in space.


The goal of NASA’s PhoneSat mission is to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable, yet very inexpensive, satellite.

NASA’s off-the-shelf PhoneSats already have many of the systems needed for a satellite, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers and several radios.

NASA engineers kept the total cost of the components for the three prototype satellites in the PhoneSat project between $3,500 and $7,000 by using primarily commercial hardware and keeping the design and mission objectives to a minimum. The hardware for this mission is the Google-HTC Nexus One smartphone running the Android operating system.

Picture packets

According to PhoneSat officials at California’s NASA Ames Research Center near Silicon Valley, the site where they were built, since the successful deployment of the three spacecraft, they have already received over 200 data “packets” from amateur radio operators around the world.

The received packets are being processed during the complete duration of the PhoneSat technology demonstration mission.

As scheduled, Graham and Bell have started transmitting picture packets. Since the picture packets need to be stitched to restore the complete Earth picture, the call is out for as many packets as possible.

The two PhoneSat 1.0 satellites — Graham and Bell — transmit with a periodicity of respectively 28 seconds and 30 seconds.

The PhoneSat 2.0 beta satellite, Alexander, transmit with a periodicity of 25 seconds.

The satellites are expected to remain in orbit for as long as two weeks.

Testing ground

“It’s always great to see a space technology mission make it to orbit — the high frontier is the ultimate testing ground for new and innovative space technologies of the future,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington, D.C.

“Smartphones offer a wealth of potential capabilities for flying small, low-cost, powerful satellites for atmospheric or Earth science, communications, or other space-born applications,” Gazarik said. “They also may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users.”

To keep an eye on the whereabouts and success of the orbiting smartphones, go to:

By Leonard David


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