NASA does some of the best work out of any public agency in the United States. Unfortunately, they are constantly defunded and must work within strict constraints. Even with the limitations, the agency was able to land on Mars with the Curiosity rover. Continuing the trend of getting the most out of a dollar, they’re now sending Android smartphones into space.
NASA recently revealed PhoneSat, a cheap satellite that’s powered by an Android smartphone. The idea behind PhoneSat was to see if NASA’s engineers could build a satellite using only off-the-shelf consumer components. The design was successful and they were able to keep costs to a minimum. The costs are so low that each PhoneSat will only cost $3,500.
Using smartphones has more benefits beyond cost for the next generation of satellites. NASA says that they will be able to easily update the next generation of PhoneSats as newer consumer-grade parts become available. This would save NASA time and money as they would not be required to create custom-made parts for their latest excursions into space.
As for the satellite itself, the PhoneSat will be housed inside of a cube that weighs less than four pounds. It also measures approximately four inches. The first iteration of the satellite used an HTC Nexus One while the second iteration uses a Samsung Nexus S. The satellite features an S band radio that allows NASA to control the satellite from Earth. If the phone were to ever stop working, the satellite also features a watchdog circuit that reboots the phone.
PhoneSat has only been tested in extreme environments so far, but has not actually made its way into space yet. The first PhoneSat prototype made its way into space via a high altitude balloon, but the actual space missions won’t take place until next year. The PhoneSat will be used to conduct heliophysics missions.
Interestingly enough, PhoneSat is not the first time Android has been to space. Google actually sent Android into space via weather balloon back in 2010 as part of a publicity stunt. Google’s weather balloon was also equipped with the Nexus S smartphone.