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Technology & Innovation

Space: The Final (Smartphone) Frontier

Scheduled to launch early this year are three PhoneSat “nanosatellites” — nicknamed Alexander, Graham, and Bell — built using off-the-shelf components, including Samsung Nexus smartphones.

What’s the Latest Development?

Three “nanosatellites” — nicknamed Alexander, Graham, and Bell — are scheduled to launch into low Earth orbit this year as part of NASA’s PhoneSat project. The four-inch cubes, weighing only three pounds each, were created using low-cost, commercially off-the-shelf components, including Samsung Nexus smartphones, which serve as the operating system. While the satellites are up there, amateur radio enthusiasts from around the world will be enlisted to upload and download data packets.

What’s the Big Idea?

PhoneSat is mainly about creating space technology quickly and on the cheap. NASA Small Spacecraft Technology manager Bruce Yost says, “From the programmatic level, we’re exploring the use of non-traditional hardware and systems providers…outside of what you normally call the aerospace industries.” Much of the technology required to operate larger satellites already exists inside the typical smartphone, and by combining it with similarly low-cost items — such as “leftover” solar cells that sell for $250 per 100 —  the team hopes to demonstrate, as one member puts it, “cool, cheap technologies that can inspire a lot of people to get involved in space.” The coolness factor is something Popular Science agrees with: It’s named PhoneSat one of the winners of its 2012 “Best of What’s New” competition.

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