NASA needs to make satellites cheaper and faster. There’s an app for that.
NASA’s PhoneSat project creates nanosatellites from unmodified smartphones – specifically, the HTC Nexus One and Samsung’s Nexus S. That means it’s Android that gets to leap into outer space, not iOS.
The prototype satellites only cost $3,500, a figure kept low by using existing commercial technology instead of creating customised hardware. Smartphones are great for satellites because they’ve got a lot of the features required: fast processors, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, radios, GPS receivers and (this is probably where the iPhone falls down) versatile operating systems.
The PhoneSat 1.0, using the HTC Nexus One, is a very basic model to test the capabilities and ensure that this will actually work. All it’s going to do is survive for a little while, send back a few photos and inform us that the satellite is doing ok up there.
The PhoneSat 2.0 will then use the newer Nexus S and be powered by solar panels to survive a little longer. It will also have a whole lot of other gizmos and gadgets to do cool stuff in space – like things called “magentorquer coils” (now there’s an awesome name) that will interact with the Earth’s magnetic field!
Two PhoneSat 1.0s and one PhoneSat 2.0 are scheduled to launch later this year on the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket that will take off from the NASA Flight Facility at Wallops Island.
With reduced costs for small spacecraft, we can hopefully expect more space exploration and capabilities for less tax dollars.
I’m excited to see the results. What about you?