Space shots: Android phones beam back images of Earth

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Most people just want their smartphones to take great pictures of their dogs or their kids’ soccer games.

NASA is a bit more ambitious.

The space agency Friday released photos that three smartphones took from their orbit around Earth (shown above). The HTC Nexus One from Google running the Android operating system was the photographer.

How it worked

NASA combined multiple photos from the orbiting smartphones, called PhoneSats, to create images of Earth as seen from space.

“During their time in orbit, the three miniature satellites 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 and multiple amateur radio operators around the world collaborated to piece together photographs from the tiny data packets.”


The three PhoneSats were launched into orbit on April 21 aboard an Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The smartphones completed what NASA called a successful mission on April 27.

The goal of NASA’s mission was to see how capable these tiny nanosatellites are and whether they could one day serve as the brains of inexpensive, but powerful, satellites.

The phones were encased in 4-inch metal cubes and hooked up to external lithium-ion battery packs and more powerful radios for sending messages from space.

The devices went into a orbit about 150 miles above Earth, after six days fell back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere.

In addition to the photos, the three PhoneSats transmitted messages about their functions and condition.

The transmissions were received at multiple ground stations, indicating that they were operating normally.

The three smartphones that NASA launched into orbit to see if they could work as the brains for future inexpensive satellites sent back these photos of Earth. (Image: NASA)

This story, "Space shots: Android phones beam back images of Earth" was originally published by Computerworld.

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