Three Nexus One smartphones are orbiting the Earth as the brains of what NASA calls a nanosatellite: a tiny cube satellite measuring only four inches square and costing less than $3500 …
The low budget appears to extend to NASA’s bandwidth for the project, as they only appear to have tiny photos online:
PhoneSat is a nanosatellite, categorizing the mass as between one and ten kilograms. Additionally, PhoneSat is a 1U CubeSat, having a volume of around one liter. The PhoneSat Project strives to decrease the cost of satellites while not sacrificing performance. In an effort to achieve this goal, the project is based around Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) electronics to provide functionality for as many parts as possible while still creating a reliable satellite. Two copies of PhoneSat 1.0 are being launched mid April 2013 along with an early prototype of PhoneSat 2.0 referred to as PhoneSat 2.0.beta.
The Nexus One was Google’s showcase phone in 2010, but is now a very low-spec handset running an elderly version of Android, making the mission all the more impressive.
The three PhoneSats were launched on Antares, an unmanned rocket being tested for use for cargo supplies to the International Space Station. The absolutely standard Nexus One acts as the on-board computer for the satellite, determining the orientation of the tiny spacecraft and making Earth observations – but it’s main mission is simply to remain functioning, transmitting back data on its own status as proof that the approach works. An external battery should power the phone for two weeks before it falls out or orbit and burns up.