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Rely on a Smartphone? New NASA Satellites Do.

NASASuzanne Presto
VOA News

Smartphones. We carry them in our pockets, toss them in our tote bags and have them at the ready whenever we want directions to a destination or to snap a picture or to call a friend.

Perhaps we’re often guilty of taking the gadgets’ microprocessing powers for granted. Not so with NASA, which just sent three smartphones into space as low-cost satellites.


When Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on its first test flight Sunday, the privately built booster carried a payload to simulate the cargo craft that will one day dock with the International Space Station.

But Antares also placed into orbit several new mini-satellites built mainly with smartphone components, which the U.S. space agency is calling their PhoneSats.

The three so-called PhoneSats are named ‘Alexander,’ ‘Graham,’ and ‘Bell,’ after the inventor of the telephone.

The PhoneSats are small cubes, each about the size of a beverage mug and weighing a little more than a kilogram. At the core of each is a Google-HTC Nexus One phone, whose zippy little microprocessor — running the Android operating system — serves as the onboard computer.

Operating in Orbit

Jim Cockrell, the PhoneSat Project Manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, described the project in a video broadcast on NASA TV ahead of the Antares launch.

“Someone here asked the question, ‘Can we fly a cell phone as the avionics for a satellite and have something that’s very capable but really, really inexpensive?’ So PhoneSat was launched to try to answer that question,” he said.

NASA says the three PhoneSats are Continue reading