NASA’s Nexus One satellites send pictures home, program to be extended
NASA has announced that the three “PhoneSat” satellites based on Android smartphones have successfully captured and transmitted images of the Earth.
Next time you’re having an argument with an iPhone fanboy, tell them that Android phones are used by NASA, as satellites.
The American space agency successfully launched into orbit its first micro-satellites based on modified Android smartphones last month, and now the results of the experiment have been published.
Two of the PhoneSat satellites were based on the HTC Nexus One, while a third one was based on the Nexus S. If you’re wondering why the rocket scientists picked these obsolete models instead of a modern device with a powerful camera, like the Galaxy S3 or the HTC One X, it’s because planning and executing satellite missions requires years. The two Nexus phones were among the best available options when the program debuted back in 2009.
NASA announced that the experiment was deemed a success, after the three micro-satellites orbited the Earth, took pictures of our planet, and then disintegrated in the atmosphere as expected. The images may not seem like much, but the distortions are actually due to the transmission of the digital information from the smartphone satellites to the control center, over UHF radio.
The images taken by the actual cameras of the smartphones were broken down into small data packets and beamed down to the Earth using a low-power transmitter that the phones were equipped with. The packets were picked up by NASA and amateur radio operators from around the world and used to reconstruct the big picture.
For NASA, the goal of the experiment was to see if it’s possible to build and deploy ultra-cheap satellites using smartphones as the flight controllers, effectively the brains of the satellite. The notion makes perfect sense when you consider that smartphones contain all the processing power required to control a satellite, not to mention the radio connectivity and GPS chip that can be used for guidance. These “Nexus satellites” cost just thousands of dollars, compared to hundreds of thousands or more, for a custom built satellite.
This is just a small step towards putting more smartphones into space, and although the results may not seem that impressive, NASA considers the outcome encouraging. The agency is already working on sending a new batch of micro-satellites powered by Android into space, sometimes later this year.