Smartphone satellites send back pictures from orbit

© NASA Ames

Smartphones have been utilized in many ways to monitor and protect the environment and get us closer to wildlife, but recently, scientists have been thinking of ways to use the technology-packed phones to observe things from farther away -- much farther away.

At the end up April, NASA launched three tiny satellites -- Alexander, Graham and Bell -- each built around a smartphone that was responsible not only for taking pictures from low-earth orbit, but also all the avionics for maintaining attitude control. The mission sought to prove how tiny satellites could be made more cheaply from off-the-shelf components.

From April 21 to 27, the 4-inch-square cube-shaped satellites circled the earth outfitted with an external lithium-ion battery and a radio for sending back images as data packets. NASA collected this data at its Ames Research Center, but in keeping with the budget-minded approach to this mission, volunteer amateur radio operators around the world helped out with collecting more than 200 of the image data packets. NASA sees this as a way to not only make space exploration cheaper, but thinks it "may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users."

"During the short time the spacecraft were in orbit, we were able to demonstrate the smartphones' ability to act as satellites in the space environment," said Bruce Yost, the program manager for NASA's Small Satellite Technology Program. "The PhoneSat project also provided an opportunity for NASA to collaborate with its space enthusiasts. Amateur radio operators from every continent but Antarctica contributed in capturing the data packets we needed to piece together the smartphones' image of Earth from space.”

The photo at the top of the story shows an image taken by the Graham (PhoneSat-2) satellite and pieced together by NASA along with the volunteer radio operators.

You can watch a video below about the mission.

Tags: Cell Phones | Nasa | Technology

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