Nexus devices picked by NASA to power ultra-cheap satellites

by: nathanAugust 24, 2012
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PhoneSat 1.0 during high-altitude balloon test. Photo courtesy of NASA Ames Research Center, 2011

Here’s what we know about PhoneSat, NASA’s coolest technological venture into space: it’s low-cost and it’s sporting none other than the ‘droid. It’s actually part of the CubeSat Launch Initiative that ties in small consumer electronics with working nanosatellites.

The very thought of Android makes our pulse race, but the news of PhoneSat, a real story about the Nexus One being catapulted into space? Well, we were catapulted right along with it. This is actually future news, because PhoneSat is not a reality just yet. The program is underway but launches won’t occur until late 2012.

So what is PhoneSat exactly? Well, it’s basically a 10-by-10-by-10-cm CubeSat shell with a Nexus One packed inside. As with most low-earth satellites, an external beacon and batteries are included in the overall design. This will all be strapped to an Antares rocket, a low-Earth-orbiting rocket that can carry up to 15,000 pounds. I think it’s overkill, seeing as how the payload is hovering around 4 pounds, but maybe they didn’t have anything smaller to use.

What will the mission of PhoneSat be? There’s actually a two-tier plan to this whole story: PhoneSat 1.0 will have a Nexus One and be minimal functionality. It will be undertaking small tasks such as operational health and possibly even pictures from space.

PhoneSat 2.0 will have a Samsung Nexus S involved and its mission is a little more vague, so we don’t have details. What we do know is it will include a two-way S-band radio, solar arrays, and a GPS receiver, and magnetorquer coils (electromagnets that interact with Earth’s magnetic field). We imagine it will probably be doing about the same tasks as 1.0, but with a wider array of tools to choose from. This will give more pertinent data to the folks back on the ground, located at NASA’s Ames Research center in Moffett Field, California.

All in all, we think PhoneSat will be a success in terms of advertising how easy it is to use consumer-level devices to accomplish professional, high-level duties such as astronomy, heliophysics, and general meteorological work. If successful indeed, PhoneSat will be involved in greater feats such as moon exploration and other types of space flight. How awesome would that be in the future, seeing pictures of the moon from the lens of an Android phone, then looking into your palm and owning the same hardware as NASA?