Popular Science Chooses NASA PhoneSat As Best Aerospace Innovation Of 1012
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The 2012 Popular Science’s Best of What’s New Award for innovation in aerospace has been announced — and the winner is NASA’s PhoneSat project. PhoneSat is expected to demonstrate the ability to launch one of the lowest-cost, easiest to build satellites ever flown in space using off the shelf consumer smartphones.
Popular Science reviews thousands of new products and innovations each year, choosing the top 100 winners across 12 categories for its annual Best of What’s New issue, due out on shelves in December. A winning product or technology must represent a significant step forward in its category.
“NASA’s PhoneSat mission will demonstrate use of small satellites for space commerce, educational activities and citizen-exploration are well within the reach of ordinary Americans because of lower cost, commercially available components,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Thanks to America’s continuing investment in space technology to enable NASA missions, we’ve seen space tech brought down and into our lives here on Earth. With PhoneSat, we’re doubling up, and taking those same great technologies back to space.”
PhoneSat 1.0 has a very basic mission goal. The satellite is to function in space for a short period while simultaneously sending back digital imagery of Earth and space and returning information about the satellite’s health.
One of the most innovative aspects of the PhoneSat project is the price tag. NASA engineers built three prototype satellites with a total cost of $3,500 each using only commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and establishing minimum design and mission objectives for the primary flight.
Each of the three “nanosatellites” is a 4-inch cube weighing only three pounds and making extensive use of an unmodified, consumer-grade smartphone. Smartphones, straight out of the box, offer capabilities needed for satellites — fast processors, versatile operating systems, multiple miniature sensors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers, and several radios.
“NASA PhoneSat engineers are changing the way missions are designed by rapidly prototyping and incorporating existing commercial technologies and hardware,” said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., where a small team of engineers developed and built PhoneSat. “This approach allows engineers to see what capabilities commercial technologies can provide, rather than trying to custom-design technology solutions to meet set requirements.”
PhoneSat 1.0 is built around the Nexus One smartphone by HTC Corp. The Nexus One runs on Google’s Android OS and will act as the spacecraft’s onboard computer. An open-source, micro controller adapted as a watchdog circuit that monitors the systems and reboots the phone if it stops sending radio signals is one of the commercial-off-the-shelf parts that make the PhoneSat project so affordable.
PhoneSat 2.0 will be built around a Nexus S smartphone made by Samsung Electronics. The Nexus S runs on Google’s Android OS and provides a faster core processor, avionics and gyroscopes. PhoneSat 2.0 lays the foundation for new capabilities for small-sized satellites while advancing breakthrough technologies and decreasing costs of future small spacecraft.
PhoneSat 2.0 will take the design a step farther with solar panels to enable longer-duration missions and a GPS receiver, along with magnetorquer coils — electro-magnets that interact with Earth’s magnetic field. It will also have reaction wheels to actively control the satellite’s orientation in space. A beta version of 2.0 will accompany two prototype 1.0 satellites aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares rocket, which will launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in the coming months.