Nano satellite cube housing a smartphone

Satellites or Smartphones?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, via CC

The Smartphones are getting ready to go where no man has gone before! Well, kind of.

NASA sent, on April 21st, three Android smartphones to the space by placing them inside specially designed cube boxes and placing them on a orbit at a distance 240 kilometers from the Earth. These are Android phones made by HTC – the same usual phones – with the usual camera and GPS (Global Positioning System). NASA calls them PhoneSats – that is “Phone Satellites“. But you may ask why use phones?

NASA is running a Small Spacecraft Technology Program for the simple reason of trying to make satellite technology cheaper, and get the job (the job that satellites do is called sensing or remote sensing) done for very little money. While the old generation satellites tended to be big and expensive these new PhoneSats can do the job for few thousand dollars. Interesting right?

So what will the PhoneSats do and how? Well, at first the Android Smartphones have GPS in them so they know exactly which continent/country/city they are on-top. Then they have a pretty good camera on board to take pictures. Voila! the phone becomes a satellite and can keep sensing, that is taking pictures while revolving around the Earth.


NASA has named the three PhoneSats Alexander, Graham, and Bell of course. Of these, Alexander and Graham have slightly larger batteries than you would find on a usual HTC phone. Bell, on the other hand also has solar panels on the CubeSat so it can draw energy from Sun’s rays and work longer.

Apart from NASA in the USA several other countries have their own Low Cost Satellite programs, which are usually called Nano-Satellite programs. For example in the UK, researchers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) have also built Android powered nano-satellites.

Shall we now say Google’s Android system is reaching new heights :)

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