NASA's Smartphone Nanosatellite
PhoneSat Flight Demonstrations
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 each of the three prototype satellites in the PhoneSat project 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).
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.
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.
The Future of PhoneSat
NASA's PhoneSat 2.0 will lay the foundation for new capabilities for small-sized satellites while advancing breakthrough technologies and decreasing costs of future small spacecraft.
By building on NASA's PhoneSat 2.0 architecture, mission designers could more affordably accomplish the following kinds of future missions:
Using distributed sensors to conduct Heliophysics missions.
Expected to launch in 2013, NASA's upcoming Edison Demonstration of Small Satellite Networks mission-part of the Small Spacecraft Technology Program-will demonstrate the possibility of conducting heliophysics measurements using small spacecraft.
Qualifying new technologies and components for space flight
Conducting low-cost Earth observations
Exploring the moon and beyond
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 PhoneSat project is a small spacecraft technology demonstration mission funded by NASA's Space Technology Program which is managed by the Office of the Chief Technologist. The Space Technology Program develops and matures broadly applicable technology essential for scientific, robotic, and human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, ensures the agency’s technology portfolio contains both the near-term mission-driven and long-range transformative technology required to meet our nation’s exploration and science goals, and advances revolutionary concepts and capabilities, lowering development costs and reducing risk for NASA missions by engaging NASA Centers, small businesses, academia, industry, other Government agencies and international partners.