An Excellent Use for Old Smartphones – NASA’s PhoneSat

While it may not be a prerequisite for a satellite app, NASA and other groups are exploring how to use smartphones in ways for which they were never intended.  Namely as the core of microsatellites.

NASA’s projects (H/T Wired Enterprise) is PhoneSat, which involves using two different smartphones running the Android operating system to run satellites that conduct observation missions in Earth orbit.  NASA has developed two different PhoneSats, each using commercially available components, for under $3,500.  They have a spot on an upcoming Orbital Sciences launch.  Plans are likely underway for a PhoneSat 3.0, with perhaps another phone.

If you’re thinking, that’s cheap enough for start-ups or small maker groups, you’re not alone.  As Wired Enterprise notes, ArduSat is a small start-up that successfully earned over $100,000 in 30 days via Kickstarter.  They intend to make the satellite open source, and programmable by anyone who gets in line to use their satellite (early supporters get a good spot in the queue).

While this covers the part of space exploration post-launch, remember that many companies continue to work on lowering the cost of access to space (translation – launching the rockets).  So perhaps in a few years that commercial where a guy launches a camera into space via weather balloon can be updated to a woman launching her satellite into space via a cheaper rocket.

Not much in terms of policy here, per se.  But at some point, if launch gets cheap enough, attention may well refocus on the effort to establish private spaceports in the U.S.  In what could be a new twist for some, space policy for those facilities won’t involve just the federal government, but all the state and local government entities that you get when dealing with airports.  Fun.


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