More smartphones head into space

NASA has put three more smartphones into orbit on board of an Antares rocket. The tiny satellites were built in a standard cubesat frame and they were built using off-the-shelf components. They may very well be the cheapest satellites ever launched, Gizmag reckons.

Cubesats are not a new concept, in fact they date back to the nineties, but the mobile revolution has made them quite a bit more sophisticated. Cubesats have a volume of one liter and they are basically cubes measuring 10cm across. This means that smartphones are a perfect match for cubesats, not only in terms of size. Smartphones are relatively rugged and they feature an array of useful components, including GPS receivers, cameras, accelerometers, radio transmitters and speedy processors with decent operating systems. They can simply do more for less. 

“Smartphones offer a wealth of potential capabilities for flying small, low-cost, powerful satellites for atmospheric or Earth science, communications, or other space-borne applications,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington. “They also may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users.”

However, NASA’s choice of handsets might irk some Apple fans. First generation PhoneSats are based on the HTCNexus One, while the second generation uses the Nexus S, built by Samsung. The latter one also has a few more sensors, gyroscopes and an S-band radio. NASA launched two first-gen satellites and a single second generation PhoneSat.

PhoneSats cost between $3,500 and $7,000 to build, making them incredibly cheap even as far as cubesats go. The satellites are expected to stay in orbit for about two weeks, so keeping them cheap sounds like a very good idea indeed.