This week’s launch of the Antares rocket by Orbital Science Corporation was more than a test of rocket technology. Riding aboard that rocket were three NASA nano satellites, intended to prove that cellphones can be used as the avionics and core microprocessors of future nano satellites.

Yes, cellphones.

According to Jim Cockrell, PhoneSat Project Manager at NASA Ames, “Someone here asked the question, ‘Can we fly a cellphone as the avionics for a satellite and have something that’s very capable but really, really inexpensive?’… PhoneSat was launched to answer that question.”

To achieve these goals, the three NASA satellites were based on a standard “Cubesat” design that restricts the satellites size to exactly 10cm3. Inside this compact package, NASA has packed off-the-shelf electronics and the guts of a cellphone in an attempt to meet their goal of creating the cheapest, most easily assembled satellite to ever make it to space.

“Out of the box smartphones offer capabilities needed for satellites, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high resolution cameras, GPS receivers and several radios,” said NASA.  Add to all of those components the fact that cellphones are built to take a beating, and you can see why NASA has faith in the fact that these “PhoneSats” could bring about a new era of cheap space and earth science.

Now that the three PhoneSats have made it to space successfully, NASA announced that “Transmissions from all three PhoneSats have been received at multiple ground stations on Earth, indicating they are operating normally.” NASA continued “Ames Research Center will continue to monitor the satellites in the coming days.”

The PhoneSats are expected to remain in orbit for the next two weeks, and during that time anyone who’d like to take a look can simply tune their radio receivers to 437.425 on the UHF band. Much like Sputnik of old, each satellite will be broadcasting a signal every thirty seconds.

Learn More About NASA’s Nano Satellites:

Images Courtesy of NASA

 

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