New Space and Tech

New Details and Photos of NASA’s Three Smartphone Satellites

By Keith Cowing
April 24, 2013
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New Details and Photos of NASA’s Three Smartphone Satellites

Three smartphones destined to become low-cost satellites rode to space Sunday aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. SpaceRef has been provided with new details and images.


Additional technical information provided to SpaceRef by NASA Ames Research Center:

Bell is a PhoneSat 1.0 model with an Iridium transceiver mounted at one end. Graham is also a PhoneSat 1.0 model that is exactly the same as Bell, but without the Iridium transceiver. Both Bell and Graham’s missions are identical. Bell and Graham have 12 Li-Ion batteries, a Google Nexus One smartphone running the Android 2.3.3 operating system and a StenSat radio operating at 437.425 MHz. The spacecraft also has an accelerometer and a magnetometer

The Iridium transceiver has its own mission and is not part of PhoneSat mission. The goal of the Iridium transceiver is send packets to the Iridium constellation and receive them on ground via email.

Alexander is a PhoneSat 2.0.beta model. Alexander has different hardware, newer phone (Nexus S instead of Nexus One) running the Android 2.3.3 operating system, has 4 Li-Ion batteries, solar panels, a router, and magnetorquers that are used to detumble the satellite. Alexander has an accelerometer, a magnetometer, and a gyroscope. Alexander also has a StenSat radio operating at 437.425 MHz.

On day 1, Bell and Graham transmitted health data (battery levels, temperatures, magnetometers sensors, accelerometer sensors). On Day 2 (and beyond) Bell and Graham took 100 pictures. They will choose the best image, packetize it, and send it in small packets down to Earth while also sending their own health data.

Alexander’s mission includes charging its batteries, turning on its subsystems and checking functionality, and sending sensor data. After a while, mission controllers will try to detumble the satellite and reduce its spinning rate to less than 5deg/sec

These satellites were built by NASA civil servants and contractor employees from USRA and SGT. The mission team is based at NASA ames and is composed of Alberto Guillen Salas, Jasper Wolfe, Watson Attai, Ken Oyadomari, Cedric Priscal, Rogan Shimmin, Iman Datta, Oriol Tintore Gazulla, David Mayer, James Cockrell, as well as other students and engineers.

Alexannder PhoneSat Photo: Oriol Tintore/NASA. Larger image.

Graham PhoneSat Photo: Oriol Tintore/NASA. Larger image.

Bell PhoneSat Photo: Oriol Tintore/NASA. Larger image.


Original NASA Release: Three smartphones destined to become low-cost satellites rode to space Sunday aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

The trio of “PhoneSats” is operating in orbit, and may prove to be the lowest-cost satellites ever flown in space. The goal of NASA’s PhoneSat mission is to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable, yet very inexpensive, satellite.

Transmissions from all three PhoneSats have been received at multiple ground stations on Earth, indicating they are operating normally. The PhoneSat team at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will continue to monitor the satellites in the coming days. The satellites are expected to remain in orbit for as long as two weeks.

“It’s always great to see a space technology mission make it to orbit — the high frontier is the ultimate testing ground for new and innovative space technologies of the future,” said Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington.

“Smartphones offer a wealth of potential capabilities for flying small, low-cost, powerful satellites for atmospheric or Earth science, communications, or other space-born applications. They also may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users.”

Satellites consisting mainly of the smartphones will send information about their health via radio back to Earth in an effort to demonstrate they can work as satellites in space. The spacecraft also will attempt to take pictures of Earth using their cameras. Amateur radio operators around the world can participate in the mission by monitoring transmissions and retrieving image data from the three satellites. Large images will be transmitted in small chunks and will be reconstructed through a distributed ground station network. More information can found at:

NASA’s off-the-shelf PhoneSats already have 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.

NASA engineers 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 and keeping the design and mission objectives to a minimum. The hardware for this mission is the Google-HTC Nexus One smartphone running the Android operating system.

NASA added items a satellite needs that the smartphones do not have — a larger, external lithium-ion battery bank and a more powerful radio for messages it sends from space. The smartphone’s ability to send and receive calls and text messages has been disabled. Each smartphone is housed in a standard cubesat structure, measuring about 4 inches square. The smartphone acts as the satellite’s onboard computer. Its sensors are used for attitude determination and its camera for Earth observation.

For more about information about NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program and the PhoneSat mission, visit:

The PhoneSat mission is a technology demonstration project developed through the agency’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program, part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. The directorate is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in future science and exploration missions. NASA’s technology investments provide cutting-edge solutions for our nation’s future. For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit:

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