NASA releases images from smartphones launched into space from Wallops Island

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These images of Earth were reconstructed from photos taken by three smartphones in orbit, or "PhoneSats." (NASA)

These images of Earth were reconstructed from photos taken by three smartphones in orbit, or “PhoneSats.” (NASA)

Wallops Island, Va. – Last month’s successful test launch of the Antares rocket put a simulated version of Orbital Science’s Cygnus cargo capsule into orbit.

The rocket also launched three smartphones into orbit as part of an experiment to see if a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics for a satellite in space.

The tiny ‘Phone-Sats’ (named Alexander, Graham and Bell) also used their smartphone cameras to take pictures of Earth and transmitted these “image-data packets” to multiple ground stations. Every packet held a small piece of the big picture. As the data became available, the PhoneSat Team at NASA’s Ames Research Center and multiple amateur radio operators around the world collaborated to piece together photographs from the tiny data packets.

“During the short time the spacecraft were in orbit, we were able to demonstrate the smartphones’ ability to act as satellites in the space environment,” said Bruce Yost, the program manager for NASA’s Small Satellite Technology Program. “The PhoneSat project also provided an opportunity for NASA to collaborate with its space enthusiasts. Amateur radio operators from every continent but Antarctica contributed in capturing the data packets we needed to piece together the smartphones’ image of Earth from space.”

On the second day of the mission, the Ames team had received over 200 packets from amateur radio operators.

“Three days into the mission we already had received more than 300 data packets,” said Alberto Guillen Salas, an engineer at Ames and a member of the PhoneSat team. “About 200 of the data packets were contributed by the global community and the remaining packets were received from members of our team with the help of the Ames Amateur Radio Club station, NA6MF.”

The mission successfully ended Saturday, April 27, 2013, after predicted atmospheric drag caused the PhoneSats to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.

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