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NASA launches three Nexus Ones into orbit

NASA has launched three HTC Nexus One smartphones into orbit around the Earth as low-cost satellites.

(Credit: NASA; HTC; CBSi)

NASA has launched three HTC Nexus One smartphones into orbit around the Earth as low-cost satellites.

As part of a new project to lower the cost of satellites, on Sunday, NASA successfully launched three smartphones into orbit around the Earth. The three HTC Nexus One phones, running the Android OS, were carried aboard the Antares rocket, a new cargo shuttle for the International Space Station, from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, US.

The "PhoneSats" are already in operation, sending data back to NASA ground stations. If the PhoneSat mission to determine if consumer-grade smartphones can operate as the main flight avionics of a nano-satellite succeeds, they may be the lowest-cost satellites ever to have launched.

NASA's CubeSat 1.0.(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. They also may open space to a whole new generation of commercial, academic and citizen-space users," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington.

Expected to remain in orbit for two weeks, the satellites — which, according transmissions received by NASA, are so far operating normally — will send back data about their own health to prove how well they can remain operating in space, as well as photographs of earth taken with their cameras. Some of this data is broadcast on the amateur radio spectrum, so amateur radio operators can also help with data retrieval.

The unmodified phones operate as the brains of NASA's 10cm-cubed CubeSat, constructed from commercial off-the-shelf components. Each satellite cost between US$3500 and US$7000 to build. They are equipped with a larger lithium-ion battery pack to keep the smartphones running and a more powerful radio for transmitting data.