PhoneSat plans make a Nexus One handset the heart of a small CubeSat satellite, for the low price of $3,500.
The Nexus One acts as the satellite’s onboard computer, with its sensors being used to determine the orientation of the spacecraft while the camera can be used for Earth observations. NASA’s PhoneSat 1.0 satellite has a basic mission goal–to stay alive in space for a short period of time, sending back digital imagery of Earth and space via its camera, while also sending back information about the satellite’s health. A standard CubeSat measures 10×10×10 cm.
Commercial-off-the-shelf parts are used to augment the smartphone, including an Andrino “watchdog circuit” that is used to monitor the Android device and reboot it in the event of a problem. NASA has a PhoneSat Application Challenge encouages anyone to create an Android App that utilizes PhoneSat’s capabilities.
The Android-powered satellite is expected to be launched later this year on the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket, and if successful, it will be followed up by a more powerful nanosatellite based around the Nexus S smartphone which will feature a 2-way radio, solar panels and GPS receiver.
Three NASA PhoneSats systems (two PhoneSat 1.0′s and one PhoneSat 2.0) are scheduled to launch aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va., later this year.
The acknowledged leader in small satellites is University of Surrey’s Surrey Space Centre, which developed STRaND-1, a nanosatellite containing a smartphone payload some years ago. It will also be launched in 2012.
During the summer of 2011, the STRaND team ran a facebook competition to find apps which will be loaded onto the phone and will fly in orbit. There are four winners making use of the technology of the Android smartphone, including the microphone, speakers, camera and display in conjunction with the satellite’s conventional features – enabling STRaND-1 to do things in space that no-one has done before.
STRaND-2, a twin-satellite mission, will test an in-orbit docking system based on XBox Kinect technology. The STRaND team sees the relatively low cost nanosatellites as intelligent “space building blocks” that could be stacked together and reconfigured to build larger modular spacecraft.
“We were really impressed by what MIT had done flying an autonomous model helicopter that used Kinect and asked ourselves: Why has no-one used this in space?” explained Shaun Kenyon, project lead at Surrey Satellite.
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