On Sunday, three small satellites where sent into orbit. The launch of a satellite is hardly newsworthy anymore, but these satellites are different. Each of them are an experimental new breed of Nanosatellites whose sole onboard computer is an off-the-shelf consumer grade Android smartphone.
NASA is currently testing the feasibility of expanding the Nanosatellite program to usher in a new wave of cheap, easy to program satellites for government, corporate and even personal uses.
Why I’m curious
The typical smartphone has vastly more computing power than the computers that were aboard the Apollo 11 moon missions, so the leap of sending them into space for dedicated missions seems perfectly logical.
The extra interesting aspect of this story is NASA’s strong outreach to amateur engineers and hobbyists. Users of shortwave radios can track each satellite’s path on the PhoneSat website (http://www.phonesat.org/) and when a satellite is in range they can turn their radio gear to download the data transmissions. Users then send these data packets to NASA where they combine all of the packets into full data streams and images, which they publish on the PhoneSat website.