Just how smart are smartphones becoming? A team of scientists at NASA’s Ames Research center in California are currently working on a fleet of miniature satellites that are powered by Android devices. The project, which is part of a larger experiment called the Small Spacecraft Technology Program, aims to incorporate small consumer electronics into working nanosatellites. The satellites will be powered with Android-powered Nexus One smartphones as their main components!

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NASA’s project, which is known as PhoneSat, aims to demonstrate how it is possible to launch low-cost and easy-to-build satellites into space. It is a goal that can be achieved through off-the-shelf components such as consumer smartphones. The PhoneSat team aims to rapidly evolve satellite architecture and incorporate the Silicon Valley approach of “release early, release often” to small spacecraft.

So why use smartphones? They  offer a wealth of capabilities needed for satellite systems, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers, and several radios. In fact, by using smartphones engineers managed to keep the cost of three prototype satellites to $3,500.

Currently, each NASA PhoneSat nanosatellite is one standard CubeSat unit in size and weighs less than four pounds. A CubeSat is a miniaturized satellite in the shape of a cube that measures approximately 4 inches (10 cm). The PhoneSat 1.0, which is NASA’s prototype smartphone satellite, has been built around the Nexus One smartphone made by HTC Corp and runs Google’s Android operating system. The Nexus One acts as the spacecraft’s onboard computer, while sensors determine the orientation of the spacecraft. The phone’s camera meanwhile can be used for Earth observations.

Its goal is simple — to stay alive in space for a short period of time and send back digital imagery of Earth and space via its camera. If that goal can be achieved it will lay the foundation for new capabilities for small-sized satellites while advancing breakthrough technologies and decreasing costs of future small spacecraft.


via PC World

Images: NASA