NASA's PhoneSat 2.4 Phones Home
December 5, 2013

New Smartphone Satellite Ready To Do Some Science

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA announced on Wednesday that its next generation smartphone cubesat has completed its checkout and sent back data to the space agency, showing that all systems are go.

PhoneSat 2.4 is a tiny spacecraft weighing only about 2.2 pounds that uses an off-the-shelf Samsung Nexus S for a brain. The microsatellite is the first of the PhoneSat family to use a two-way S-band radio, which allows engineers to command the satellite from Earth. NASA says that PhoneSat 2.4 is confirming the viability of using smartphones and other commercially available electronics in satellites destined for low-Earth orbit.

"It's great to hear from NASA's most recent cubesat spacecraft," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington, in a recent statement. "NASA is committed to opening up the high frontier to a new generation of explorers who can take advantage of these sorts of small satellites to do science and technology development at a fraction of the cost of larger, more complex spacecraft."

NASA demonstrated a successful one-week mission with its PhoneSat 1.0 back in April, setting up the latest of the group of satellites. PhoneSat 2.4 is expected to have an orbital lifetime of up to one year, during which it will be measuring how well commercially developed components perform in space over a long period of time.

“This innovative application of commercially developed technologies for use in space provides for low-cost, low-risk, highly repetitive missions to meet some unique NASA science and exploration needs,” the space agency said.

PhoneSat 2.4 was one of 11 NASA-sponsored cubesats deployed on November 19 by an Orbital Sciences Minotaur 1 rocket. The microsatellite will test a system to control the orientation of the cubesat in space.

The Nexus S helps provide the satellite with functions like computation, memory, ready-made interfaces for communications, navigation and power. Data from the satellite’s subsystems, including the smartphone, the power system and orientation control system are being downlinked over an amateur radio frequency.

The PhoneSat mission series is paving the way for NASA’s next Small Spacecraft Technology mission, the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN). This mission demonstrates the concept of using many small spacecraft in a coordinated cluster to study the space environment and space-to-space communications techniques. The eight EDSN satellites being launched next year will each have a Nexus S smartphone for satellite command and data handling, with a scientific instrument added as a payload on each spacecraft.

“During EDSN, each cubesat will make science measurements and transmit the data to the others while any one of them can then transmit all of the collected data to a ground station. This versatility in command and control could make possible large swarms of satellites to affordably monitor the Earth's climate, space weather and other global-scale phenomena,” NASA said.