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

Video British Fighters on Frontline of Islamic State Information War

It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for Islamic State alongside other foreign jihadists More

Pakistan's Political Turmoil Again Shines Spotlight on Military

Thousands of protesters calling for PM Sharif to step down continue protests in front of parliament, as critics fear political impasse could spur another military coup More

Photogallery Ebola Quarantines Spark Anxiety in Liberian Capital

Food prices rise sharply as residents attempting purchases clash with security forces, leaving one person dead More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid