Smartphones in spaaaaace – The NASA Nexus Orbiters

Smartphones in spaaaaace   The NASA Nexus Orbiters

You’ve heard of the Galaxy Nexus, right? Well, how about the two Nexus One ‘budget’ satellites that are watching us from an altitude of 150 miles as I type?

The idea is to get off the shelf components and make a fully functioning satellite for less than $10,000. A bit like The Great Egg Race (remember that? No? Bah, I’m old).

Anyway, when the team at NASA embarked on project PhoneSat they chose the best and most advanced smartphone they could get there hands on – The HTC Nexus One. What a beast, 1GHz single-core processor, 512MB RAM and a 480 x 800, 3.7 inches screen!

Unfortunately, these things take time, and the Nexus One seems a little lame now the mission has come to fruition. It does, however, contain a pretty reasonable 5MP camera and a transceiver, which is what they were really interested in. You see, the main function is to take photos and send radio ‘packets’ of information back to earth. The packets of data contain imagery that will eventually be ‘stitched’ together to give a view of the earth from the PhoneSats’ orbits.

Other apps and sensors are being used to control the flight of the satellites as they orbit by automatically activating thrusters, as well as many other aspects of the spacecraft’s mission.

The Nexus One PhoneSats aren’t alone though, they are just the v1.0 models. A more advanced version of the PhoneSat is also up there with them, and guess what its brain is? Yup, the Nexus S! Samsung just had to muscle in on HTC’s turf, even when it’s in space!

This is actually based on a very similar project headed up by Surrey University and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, known as STRaND 1. The video below shows how the Nexus One sits within their satellite.

Launched on Sunday, the Orbital Science Corporation’s Antares rocket took off from Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. It wasn’t long before amateur radio enthusiasts begun notifying NASA that they had received radio signals from all three of the satellites, according to Ruth Marlaire, a NASA spokeswoman.

The end goal is to use readily available smartphone technology to be the “brains” of future generations of satellites, bringing costs and development times down. Who knows, in five years time you may be having your TV signal beamed down to you from a Nexus 4 circling above our planet. Maybe…

Thanks to Blas Yaselli for the tip.

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