Android Smartphone Satellites: NASA Launches Nexus One PhoneSats

Android smartphone satellites in space. We kid you not: NASA launched three souped up Google Nexus One PhoneSats nto orbit. Madison Andrews reports. — Three Android-based smartphones launched into orbit this week from NASA’s Wollops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA researchers said the goal is to determine whether these tiny, low-cost nanosatellites — called PhoneSats — will provide the main flight avionics of more typical satellites.

The smartphones are off-the-shelf Google Nexus One units. Engineers added a few bells and whistles to them, including a more powerful radio and an external lithium-ion battery bank. But the smartphones already had the hardware and software capabilities to transmit data from space — fast processors, high-resolution cameras, GPS receivers, radios and versatile Android operating systems. NASA enclosed each unit and its add-ons in a standard cubesat structure, measuring about four square inches.


Image credit: NASA

“Smartphones offer a wealth of potential capabilities for flying small, low-cost, powerful satellites for atmospheric or Earth science, communications, or other space-born applications,” said NASA’s associate administrator for space technology in Washington, Michael Gazarik, in a press release. “They also may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users.”

NASA has already received successful image and message transmissions. This data is mainly intended to verify that PhoneSat systems are working properly. Amateur radio operators can participate in the experiment by helping to monitor transmissions and retrieve image data, which will be stitched together to form composite pictures of earth based on satellite information.

Here’s one of the latest composite images, just released by the PhoneSat Project:


Image credit: PhoneSat

Once these smartphones have completed their mission in about a week, they will fall out of orbit and burn up in earth’s atmosphere. But this first project is only the beginning. If successful, commercial smartphones could become an affordable way for NASA to collect data without sacrificing quality for years to come.

The PhoneSat project was conceived of at the Ames Research Center and funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters. Visit to learn more about how you can get involved as an amateur radio operator and stay up-to-date on this exciting experiment.

Madison Andrews is a writer, editor, and designer living in Austin, Texas. She is founder and editor of Email her at, find her on tumblr, or follow her @madskillsvocab.