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PhoneSat Flight Demonstrations
May 3, 2013

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Successful PhoneSat Mission Completed

Three PhoneSats were delivered to Earth orbit on the maiden flight of the Antares launch vehicle on April 21, 2013 from Wallops Island, Virginia. The PhoneSats employ an off-the-shelf commercial smartphone as the control system for the satellite and used a UHF radio beacon to transmit data and images to the ground.  The technology objective was to demonstrate the application of consumer electronics as the basis of an extremely low-cost satellite bus. Each satellite is a 10 centimeter cube with a mass of about 1 kilogram. Transmissions from all three satellites were received at multiple sites soon after launch indicating that they were all functioning properly. As expected, the satellite orbits naturally decayed after about one week and they re-entered on Saturday, April 27, 2013. Transmissions were received throughout the week and all three operated normally up until re-entry. Two of the PhoneSats have standard smartphone cameras and these were used to take images of the Earth from space. The images were transmitted incrementally by the tiny satellites in small data packets which were received at tracking stations and by amateur radio operators around the world.  The PhoneSat team at the NASA Ames Research Center used the data packets to stitch together complete images. Another experiment on one of the satellites to send signals via an Iridium satellite link was also successful.  The Ames Research Center supported this project since its inception several years ago and the Small Spacecraft Technology Program has sponsored much of its development and launch.

Graham is the basic PhoneSat 1.0 model. Bell is a PhoneSat 1.0 model with an Iridium transceiver mounted at one end. Graham and Bell have 12 lithium-ion batteries, a Google Nexus One smartphone running the Android 2.3.3 operating system and a StenSat radio operating at 437.425 MHz. The spacecraft also has an accelerometer and a magnetometer. The missions for Graham and Bell are identical. On day 1, Bell and Graham transmitted health data (battery levels, temperatures, magnetometer sensors, accelerometer sensors). On day 2 (and beyond) Bell and Graham took 100 pictures. They will choose the best image, packetize it, and send it in small packets down to Earth while also sending their own health data. The goal of the Iridium transceiver is send packets to the Iridium constellation and receive them on ground via email.

Alexander is a PhoneSat 2.0.beta model. It has different hardware: a newer phone (Nexus S) running the Android 2.3.3 operating system, 4 Li-Ion batteries, solar panels, a router, and magnetic torquers that are used to de-tumble the satellite. Alexander has an accelerometer, a magnetometer, a gyroscope and a StenSat radio operating at 437.425 MHz. Alexander's mission includes charging its batteries, turning on its systems, and sending sensor data. Mission controllers may try to de-tumble the satellite and reduce its spinning rate to less than 5deg/sec using the magnetic torquers.

The Launch of the PhoneSats

Click here for the press release.

Background on the PhoneSat Project

The PhoneSat project is a technology demonstration mission developed through the agency's Small Spacecraft Technology Program, part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Engineering Directorate at NASA Ames Research Center. The project started in summer 2009 as a student-led collaborative project between the Ames Research Center and the International Space University.

NASA's PhoneSat project will demonstrate the ability to launch the lowest-cost and easiest to build satellites ever flown in space - capabilities enabled by using off-the-shelf consumer smartphones to build spacecraft.

A small team of engineers working on NASA's PhoneSat at the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., aim to rapidly evolve satellite architecture and incorporate the Silicon Valley approach of "release early, release often" to small spacecraft.

To achieve this, NASA's PhoneSat design makes extensive use of commercial-off-the-shelf components, including an unmodified, consumer-grade smartphone. Out of the box smartphones already offer a wealth of capabilities needed for satellite systems, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers, and several radios.

NASA engineers kept the total cost of the components to build the basic PhoneSat bus to $3,500 by using only commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and keeping the design and mission objectives to a minimum for the first flight.

NASA PhoneSat engineers also are changing the way missions are designed by rapidly prototyping and incorporating existing commercial technologies and hardware. This approach allows engineers to see what capabilities commercial technologies can provide, rather than trying to custom-design technology solutions to meet set requirements. Engineers can rapidly upgrade the entire satellite's capabilities and add new features for each future generation of PhoneSats.

Each NASA PhoneSat nanosatellite is one standard CubeSat unit in size and weighs less than four pounds. A CubeSat is a miniaturized satellite in the shape of a cube that measures approximately 4 inches (10 cm).

PhoneSat 1.0

Flies low-cost consumer electronics in space.

NASA's prototype smartphone satellite, known as PhoneSat 1.0, is built around the Nexus One smartphone made by HTC Corp., running Google's Android operating system. The Nexus One acts as the spacecraft onboard computer. Sensors determine the orientation of the spacecraft while the smartphone's camera can be used for Earth observations. Commercial-off-the-shelf parts include a watchdog circuit that monitors the systems and reboots the phone if it stops sending radio signals.

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.

To prepare for such a mission, NASA has successfully tested PhoneSat 1.0 in various extreme environments, including thermal-vacuum chambers, vibration and shock tables, sub-orbital rocket flights and high-altitude balloons.

PhoneSat 2.0

Additional features, more capabilities.

NASA's PhoneSat 2.0 will equip a newer Nexus S smartphone made by Samsung Electronics running Google's Android operating system to provide a faster core processor, avionics and gyroscopes.

PhoneSat 2.0 also will supplement the capabilities of PhoneSat 1.0 by adding a two-way S-band radio to allow engineers to command the satellite from Earth, solar panels to enable longer-duration missions, and a GPS receiver. In addition, PhoneSat 2.0 will add magnetorquer coils – electro-magnets that interact with Earth's magnetic field – and reaction wheels to actively control the satellite's orientation in space.

PhoneSat 1.0/2.0b Mission

Three NASA PhoneSats systems (two PhoneSat 1.0's and one PhoneSat 2.0 beta) are scheduled to launch aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Virginia.

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Alexander PhoneSat 2.0b with solar panels.
“Alexander” PhoneSat 2.0b with solar panels.
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Graham PhoneSat 1.0
“Graham” PhoneSat 1.0
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Bell PhoneSat 1.0 with Iridium experiment attached
“Bell” PhoneSat 1.0 with Iridium experiment attached
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Jasper Wolfe and Cedric Priscal (behind) from the PhoneSat team receive signals from the PhoneSats at the Cubesat Workshop in Sam Luis Obispo.
Jasper Wolfe and Cedric Priscal (behind) from the PhoneSat team receive signals from the PhoneSats at the Cubesat Workshop in Sam Luis Obispo on April 25, using a handheld antenna, portable radio, laptop, and smartphone as their tracking station.
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PhoneSat 1.0
PhoneSat 1.0
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PhoneSat 1.0 during high-altitude balloon test
PhoneSat 1.0 during high-altitude balloon test
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PhoneSat 1.0 ground testing
PhoneSat 1.0 ground testing
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PhoneSat 1.0 assembly
PhoneSat 1.0 assembly.
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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: Loura Hall