Three PhoneSats, powered by HTC Nexus One and Samsung Nexus S, launch into space as a lower cost alternative to traditional satellites.
10 Space Technologies That Help On Earth
(click image for slideshow)
Over the weekend, NASA successfully launched into space three satellites consisting mainly of smartphones aboard a rocket. The nanosatellites, known as PhoneSats, have been transmitting signals to ground stations on Earth and will remain in orbit for as long as two weeks.
Orbital Science's Antares rocket took off from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia containing two PhoneSat 1.0 satellites, dubbed Graham and Bell, and an early prototype of PhoneSat 2.0, called Alexander. What makes the satellites unique is their use of commercial off-the-shelf smartphone components. PhoneSat 1.0 was built using HTC Nexus One, and PhoneSat 2.0 -- which has improved software and more sensors -- is powered by Samsung Nexus S.
Smartphones have more than 100 times the computing power of satellites, including fast processors, multiple sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers and radios. That's the main reason why they were chosen as microprocessors for PhoneSats, NASA said. However, some components had to be added that are missing in smartphones, including a larger, external lithium-ion battery and a more powerful radio for sending messages from space.
Each miniature satellite, measuring only four inches on each side and weighting less than four pounds, cost $3,500 to construct. NASA said its goal with PhoneSats is to send cheaper, easier to build satellites to space. Sunday's launch is estimated to cost as little as $50,000. As a comparison, a typical satellite costs as much as $500 million.
"Smartphones offer a wealth of potential capabilities for flying small, low-cost, powerful satellites for atmospheric or earth science, communications or other space-born applications," Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology, said in a written statement. "They also may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users."
Since the demonstration flight began, Alexander, Graham and Bell have been broadcasting signals over amateur radio band at 437.425 MHz. NASA created Phonesat.org, a website where anyone around the world can upload data "packets" they receive from the PhoneSats. The site has already collected more than 200 packets from amateur radio operators who have been tracking the satellites.
NASA has been working on this project since 2010, and has been finding different ways of using smartphones to make satellites more intelligent. The project is part of the space agency's Small Spacecraft Technology Program. PhoneSats were created by a small team of engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Calif.
The Antares rocket, which NASA's commercial partner Orbital Sciences is testing in orbit with the PhoneSats, will eventually be used to carry experiments and supplies to the International Space Station.
InformationWeek Elite 100Our data shows these innovators using digital technology in two key areas: providing better products and cutting costs. Almost half of them expect to introduce a new IT-led product this year, and 46% are using technology to make business processes more efficient.
The UC Infrastructure TrapWorries about subpar networks tanking unified communications programs could be valid: Thirty-one percent of respondents have rolled capabilities out to less than 10% of users vs. 21% delivering UC to 76% or more. Is low uptake a result of strained infrastructures delivering poor performance?
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.