NASA’s Android-Powered Satellites Beam Down Smartphone Snaps from Orbit


Late last month, NASA launched Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket into space, and with it a trio of satellites powered, get this, by Android Phones. Part of the NASA project “PhoneSats,” the three satellites spent a total of 5 days in space, after which they burned up in the atmosphere as planned — but not before they had a chance to beam down some sub-par smartphone snaps of Earth as seen from Orbit.

The PhoneSats program actually started in 2009, but it wasn’t until recently that the smartphone satellites made it into space, proving that mobile technology could survive up there with the big boys. Two of the satellites were made using HTC Nexus Ones, one using a Samsung Nexus S, and all three took photos from space using their standard camera.


Before you judge the phones based on the photos, however, it’s worth mentioning that the photos didn’t come out this way in-camera. The pics had to be sent down to Earth as packets of data over the UHF radio band, after which NASA got a group of ham radio operators to put them back together.

It may not seem very impressive, but for only $3,500 per satellite (is that on or off contract?), NASA definitely intends to keep sending smartphones to space. To see all of the photos from the project and follow NASA as they prepare to send more PhoneSat satellites up later this year, check out NASA’s PhoneSat website here.

(via NASA via The Verge)

Image credits: Photographs courtesy of NASA

  • crummett

    OK, I’ll be the first ask- why? As a proof-of-concept, it’s interesting, but we already have excellent imaging from space.

  • benny

    We have excellent, expensive imaging from space. Though they wouldn’t just be testing the cameras, I guess they’d also be seeing how robust the hardware is, as well as techniques for picking up low power transmissions. I guess ad-hoc networks of small, cheap satellites would also be something they’re looking at.

  • Sky

    Jeez, that’s horrible.
    They should have talked with Nokia. At least they got half-decent cameras in their smartphones (and I’m sure for NASA they’d release full source code)

  • Jonathan Maniago

    It wouldn’t make any difference even if they did send a phone with better optics up there. The bottleneck here is the transmission of data.