News / Science & Technology

Rely on a Smartphone? New NASA Satellites Do

NASA's PhoneSat project has won Popular Science's 2012 Best of What's New Award for innovation in aerospace. PhoneSat will demonstrate the ability to launch one of the lowest-cost, easiest-to-build satellites ever flown in space -- capabilities enabled by
NASA's PhoneSat project has won Popular Science's 2012 Best of What's New Award for innovation in aerospace. PhoneSat will demonstrate the ability to launch one of the lowest-cost, easiest-to-build satellites ever flown in space -- capabilities enabled by
Suzanne Presto
Smartphones.  We carry them in our pockets, toss them in our tote bags and have them at the ready whenever we want directions to a destination or to snap a picture or to call a friend. 

Perhaps we're often guilty of taking the gadgets' microprocessing powers for granted.  Not so with NASA, which just sent three smartphones into space as low-cost satellites.

PhoneSats    

When Orbital Sciences' Antares rocket launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on its first test flight Sunday, the privately built booster carried a payload to simulate the cargo craft that will one day dock with the International Space Station.

But Antares also placed into orbit several new mini-satellites built mainly with smartphone components, which the U.S. space agency is calling their PhoneSats.
The three so-called PhoneSats are named 'Alexander,' 'Graham,' and 'Bell,' after the inventor of the telephone. 

The PhoneSats are small cubes, each about the size of a beverage mug and weighing a little more than a kilogram.  At the core of each is a Google-HTC Nexus One phone, whose zippy little microprocessor -- running the Android operating system -- serves as the onboard computer.

Operating in Orbit

Jim Cockrell, the PhoneSat Project Manager at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, described the project in a video broadcast on NASA TV ahead of the Antares launch.

"Someone here asked the question, 'Can we fly a cell phone as the avionics for a satellite and have something that's very capable but really, really inexpensive?' So PhoneSat was launched to try to answer that question," he said.   

NASA says the three PhoneSats are operating in orbit, and transmissions from the trio have been received at various ground stations here on Earth.

Low-Cost Satellites

Engineers spent between $3,500 and $7,000 for the PhoneSat components. They did add a larger, external lithium-ion battery bank and a more powerful radio to send messages.  

The space agency says smartphones have more than 100 times the computing power of an average satellite.  Researchers note that smartphones come equipped with fast processors, high-resolution cameras, global positioning system receivers, radios and sensors.       

"The smartphone vendors have put a lot of R&D [research and development] money into making very, very capable microprocessors that have a lot of processing power and speed in a package that's very rugged," said NASA's Cockrell.

Monitoring PhoneSat Transmissions

Researchers continue to monitor the satellites, which could remain in orbit for about two weeks.  NASA adds that amateur radio operators can monitor the transmissions themselves.  Each satellite will broadcast a signal every 30 seconds on the amateur UHF band 437.425 MHz.   

The PhoneSats will attempt to take pictures of our planet as well as send information via radio back to Earth.  

Think about that next time you pull your phone from your pocket.  But don't think about texting 'Alexander' 'Graham' or 'Bell.'  NASA says it has disabled their ability to send and receive calls and texts.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

There are Western concerns Islamic State militants soon may unleash offensive in kingdom that could create upheaval - though nation has solid intel, grip on banking system More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid