An interesting bit of trivia that has been doing the rounds for some time now is that a single smartphone these days has more processing power than the whole of NASA had when they launched the first spaceship.
On Sunday, NASA snuck three phones aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.
NASA says that these smartphones may prove to be the lowest-cost satellites ever flown in space.
This is part of NASA’s PhoneSat mission which is trying to determine whether a smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics satellite.
NASA says all three smartphones are functioning properly as they have received transmissions from all three at multiple ground stations on Earth. The smartphones are expected to remain in orbit for as long as two weeks.
The smartphones will attempt to send information about their health via radio back to Earth in an effort to demonstrate they can work as satellites in space.
The best part of this mission is that amateur radio operators around the world can participate in the mission by monitoring transmissions and retrieving image data from the three satellites.
NASA engineers have kept the total cost of the components for the three prototype satellites in the PhoneSat project between $3,500 and $7,000 by using primarily commercial hardware. The smartphones used are Google-HTC Nexus One smartphone running Android. These smartphones needed a few items like a larger, external lithium-ion battery bank and a more powerful radio to send messages back to earth.
The smartphone already has many of the systems needed for a satellite, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers and several radios making it easy to include in a PhoneSat system
Each of the smartphone is housed in a standard cubesat structure which is just 4 inches square. The smartphone primarily acts as the satellite’s onboard computer and its sensors are used for attitude determination and its camera for Earth observation.
This is not the first time a smartphone has been launched into space. In February, the British-built Strand-1 spacecraft, developed by scientists in Surrey, was sent into orbit from Sriharikota in India on board ISRO’s PSLV launcher to test the capabilities of a standard smartphone in a space environment.