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Smartphone Nanosatellites

NASA’s PhoneSat project will demonstrate the ability to launch the lowest-cost and easiest-to-build satellites ever flown in space — capabilities enabled by using off-theshelf consumer smartphones to build spacecraft. The smartphones already offer a wealth of capabilities needed for satellite systems, including fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers, and several radios.

altA small team of engineers working on PhoneSat at Ames Research Center aims to rapidly evolve satellite architecture. They kept the total cost of the components to build each of the three prototype satellites to $3,500 by using only commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, and keeping the design and mission objectives to a minimum for the first flight.

NASA’s prototype smartphone satellite, PhoneSat 1.0, is built around the Nexus One smartphone made by HTC Corp., running Google’s Android operating system. The Nexus One acts as the spacecraft onboard computer. Sensors determine the orientation of the spacecraft while the smartphone’s camera can be used for Earth observations. COTS parts include a watchdog circuit that monitors the systems and reboots the phone if it stops sending radio signals.

PhoneSat 2.0 adds a two-way S-band radio to allow engineers to command the satellite from Earth, solar panels to enable longer-duration missions, and a GPS receiver. It also adds magnetorquer coils — electromagnets that interact with Earth’s magnetic field — and reaction wheels to actively control the satellite’s orientation in space.

For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/offices/oct/stpsmall_satellite_subsystem_tech/phonesat.html.