Back in August of 2012, XDA OEM Relations Manager jerdog brought us news about a little Android project that was a bit “out there.” The Phone Sat project is NASA’s latest attempt at keeping up several parts of the space program while substantially cutting down on costs by using more day-to-day hardware and electronics. Remember that unimpressed astronaut meme with a caption of “so your phone has more computing power than the Apollo 11?” It seems that NASA engineers must have taken it to heart. So, over the last 8 months or so, 3 Nexus One devices have been prepared for being blasted into space with the sole objective of being tested as satellites. The entire project costs roamed in the vicinity of $3,500 to $7,000 USD, which is several orders of magnitude less than the cost of a normal satellite equipped with a similar array of sensors and onboard hardware.
As of this past Sunday (4/21/2013), the 3 devices have been orbiting around Earth, reporting their location as well as sending down imagery taken with the on board cameras. Before you all start wondering about battery life (really a common subject in most XDA threads), the devices are not only equipped with their regular Lithium Ion battery packs, but the blocks on which they are mounted are fit with large capacity battery packs as well. One of the prototypes is also equipped with solar panels. After all, what better energy source is there than the Sun itself? Most radio communications on the N1s have been disabled, so no SMS, MMS, or phone calls can be made either from/to the device. No word on the ROM used or if it is rooted, but we can only assume it is vanilla Android with a few extras added.
The choice of hardware is quite interesting, and just goes to prove that the potential uses of open source hardware and software literally have no boundaries. The obvious fact that NASA engineers have the capability to talk to and interact with all levels of hardware and sensors in the device puts them in absolute control of their hardware and therefore, their mission. The need for open development not only helps hobbyists and ORD positive people fulfill their addiction. This working model essentially can be used to expand the limits of what we know today and even allow us to conceive projects that were beyond our grasp or even imagination. Just imagine the benefits! Looking at this particular example, the savings generated from a single satellite being replaced by these devices are astronomical (no pun intended). That same money can then be put back into R&D to start pushing forward other possible breakthrough projects. So, for those who still think that open source is a waste of time and that GPL is useless, just remember: GPL and open source in general just saved NASA a few million dollars, and all for the betterment of mankind.
Now, lets just hope that they don’t burn to a crisp upon atmospheric re-entry. Thanks for reading.
WASHINGTON — Three smartphones destined to become low-cost satellites rode to space Sunday aboard the maiden flight of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.
You can find more information in the original article from NASA website.
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