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PhoneSat: Small Satellites

Today's smart cell phones have most of the core capabilities of a spacecraft: a fast processor (faster than that in most spacecraft launched today) and large memory capacity; a range of sensors such as accelerometers, rate gyros, magnetometers (all useful for attitude control) and GPS (for position); batteries and power management; several radios; and high resolution cameras. Companies investing in them, such as Apple, Google, HTC, Nokia, Motorola, have squeezed sophisticated capability into a small, physically robust form-factor, and mass produced them, lowering the cost. Leveraging the billions of dollars spent by the phone industry on miniaturizing advanced technology into small devices, these smartphones could lead to spacecraft buses whose cost are <$10,000, enabling a myriad of alternative spacecraft mission concepts to become cost effective. Smart phone component-based satellites could allow a transformational reduction in the cost of carrying out space missions.

Working with the NASA Ames Research Center, USRA scientists developed a system for using smartphone radios, sensors, cameras and processing power as part of a spacecraft and satellite bus with an integrated flight processor and sensor suite. This "PhoneSat" project aims to demonstrate a spacecraft platform based on a smartphone in a series of extreme environments including high G loads, a range of temperatures and pressures, to show the versatility of these devices for a variety of potential applications including spaceflight. To date, the phone based platform has been tested down to pressures of 10^-6 Torr, to temperatures from -30 to +60 degrees Celcius and at G loads up to 200G; and has been launched into suborbital space reaching speeds of Mach 2.4 (>1800 miles per hour) and an altitude of ~10 kilometers before returning to Earth.

The project involves collaboration with university and industry partners that include the International Space University, University of Surrey, Surrey Satellites, Rocket Mavericks, and Google; and supports the NASA Ames small spacecraft office which specializes in low cost space missions.


Stock Android HTC phone mounted in a cubesat chassis with extra batteries and a yellow metal tape measure for an antenna.

Stock Android HTC phone mounted in a cubesat chassis with extra batteries and a yellow metal tape measure for an antenna.