Tiny NASA satellites to be powered by Android phones

By on August 27, 2012, 4:30 PM

HTC's Nexus One is about to make its own giant leap into the inky blackness of space, courtesy of NASA. The iconic agency aims to make headway in its Small Spacecraft Technology Program by determining if inexpensive consumer hardware can dependably survive harrowing journeys through space. 

So, exactly why is sending a smartphone beyond our blue fish bowl important to NASA? The agency believes rocketing pint-sized satellites into space will set the foundation for a low-cost payload delivery system. NASA eggheads hope to also improve upon or evolve new propulsion techniques by working with smaller devices.

The first wave of these smartphone-powered satellites will be housed in a modular, cube-based chassis coined as a CubeSat. The dimensions of the first PhoneSat will span just 10x10x10 centimeters -- that's about twice the size of a Rubik's Cube. The shell will contain a Nexus One smartphone, an external battery, radio equipment and a watchdog circuit which be will be used to reboot the device in case the necessity arises. 

If you own a Nexus One, take a moment to feel proud: the smartphone successfully completed NASA's stress tests without any modifications. Those simulations ensure the Nexus One will be able to withstand the rigors of launch and orbit.

Somewhat amusingly, the PhoneSat's miniscule, four-pound self will be delicately nestled upon an Antares rocket during launch -- a 15,000-pound, 133-foot behemoth charged with the responsibility of delivering the tiny device beyond the out layers of atmosphere. From high above us, PhoneSat 1.0 will orbit for a bit, sending sensor data and photographs back to mission control.

After the launch of PhoneSat 1.0, a more advanced successor is planned. PhoneSat 2.0 will be upgraded to a Nexus S and contain more sophisticated hardware, including solar panel arrays and a two-way microwave radio. 

These prototype PhoneSat units will cost NASA just $3500 each. However, catapulting the satellite into LEO on the back of an Antares rocket should still cost many millions of dollars. After all, defying the Earth's gravitational pull is no trivial feat.

User Comments: 4

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Guest said:

Small correction: the Nexus One is manufactured by HTC, not Samsung. :)

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Small correction: the Nexus One is manufactured by HTC, not Samsung.

Or possibly Nexus S by Samsung.

The Nexus S is a smartphone co-developed by Google and Samsung and manufactured by Samsung Electronics. It was the first smartphone to use the Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" operating system, and the first Android device to support Near Field Communication (NFC) in both hardware and software.[8] This was the third time that Google worked with a manufacturer to produce a phone, the first and second being the Google G1 and the Nexus One, both by HTC. After the Nexus S, Samsung also manufactured the Galaxy Nexus, which was released in November 2011.

stbecker said:

Anyone else thinking that a projectile fired from ground-based artillery might also work? A multi-tiered capsule could shield the device from the atmospheric resistance as long as it could withstand the acceleration. Wiki railgun and there's even suggested spacecraft launch applications.

TJGeezer said:

"After the launch of PhoneSat 1.0, a more advanced successor is planned. PhoneSat 2.0 will be upgraded to a Nexus S and contain more sophisticated hardware..."

Wow - I thought I was reading yet another corporate product announcement, missing only the required executive statement: "We're excited to offer this revolutionary new product to the market, which has demonstrated a huge pent-up demand," said Yet Another CEO. "By coincidence, the release is planned for the beginning of Xmas shopping season."

To be a featured product at Best Buy? Heck of note when a new NASA project resembles something the kids will clamor for at Toys R Us.


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