NASA’s Research Center, Ames, is working on a new project designed to lower the cost of launching and operating small satellites. These specific satellites are Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This will use the Android-powered phones the Nexus One and the Nexus S to command the spacecraft.
The project is know as PhoneSat, and it will launch two different satellites into LEO orbit, both with different goals.
First there is PhoneSat 1.0 and it is based on the Nexus One. The one and only primary goal for PhoneSat 1.0 is to stay alive, meaning it is designed to test if the smartphone can operate for a reasonable amount of time while in space. The Nexus One is to use it’s camera to take pictures and send them back to Earth with other general information about the spacecraft. There will be an external radio beacon in place to indicate the satellite itself is ok and intact. This also is because if the signal is being received from the beacon and no signal is being received from the Nexus, then the problem is with the Nexus and not the spacecraft, there is also an external device that monitors the Nexus One and reboots it if the flow of data stops.
Second there is PhoneSat 2.0 which will be based on the Nexus S. Phone 2.0 will also feature additional hardware over PhoneSat 1.0. It will have solar panels so it will operates for a longer period of time, and scientist will be able to send commands to PhoneSat 2.0 because it has a two way radio. The last feature is PhoneSat 2.0 will have magnetorquer coils and reactions wheels, these are devices that will allow the satellite to orient itself and maintain proper position using electricity from the solar panels.
PhoneSat is part of a larger NASA program, the Small Spacecraft Technology Program, which has a goal to leverage the incredible technological advances in consumer technology to create cheaper spacecraft.
According to Ames engineer Chris Boshuizen “Your cellphone is really a $500 robot in your pocket that can’t get around. A lot of the real innovation now happens in entertainment and cellphone technology, and NASA should be going forward with their stuff.”
The hardware that these devices contain does make sense why they are perfect for this kind of project. They have GPS, cameras, compass, gyroscope, microphone and so on. To save weight the screens and cases will be removed and the batteries replaced with something more powerful and designed for the adventures.
Another reason why this makes sense to use Google’s Android OS is because it is open source and can be configured however NASA desires. NASA can modify the source code of the OS they want on the devices and then flash it to their satellite.
In 2010 a group of engineers put two Nexus One devices into high altitude rockets to see if they could handle the extreme forces of launching. One of the Nexus One devices was destroyed when its parachute did not deploy, but the other Nexus One landed and was in perfect working condition. Both devices recorded data during the entire ride.
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