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NASA Successfully Launches Three Smartphone Satellites


by Joseph Earnest April 22, 2013  

Newscast Media HOUSTONWhile most people would discard an old smartphone and replace it with a newer version, NASA used smartphone components to build and successfully launch satellites. Three smartphones destined to become low-cost satellites rode to space Sunday aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.'s Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

The trio of "PhoneSats" is operating in orbit, and 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.

"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. Watch video below:

"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. They also may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users."

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.

Each smartphone is housed in a standard cubesat structure, measuring about 4 inches square. The smartphone acts as the satellite's onboard computer. Its sensors are used for attitude determination and its camera for Earth observation.                            
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