The PhoneSat ‘skunkworks’ activity aims to remove cost as a barrier to entry for participating in space activities, with the goal of allowing anyone with space ambitions to launch their own satellite. The DIY satellite activity uses a commercial grade Android mobile phone and the open source Android platform, in conjunction with other commercial off the shelf (COTS) components.
The project has incorporated the Silicon Valley ‘release early, release often’ mentality. This applies at several levels. At a system level, the entire architecture is evolving with time to (a) add new functionality to the satellite with succeeding iterations and (b) incorporate the latest and greatest COTS hardware. Ideally the goal would be to have a launch of a new satellite every 3-6 months. At a micro level, the team plans and executes rapid technology evolution with weekly targets and problem solving.
PhoneSat 1.0 is a satellite with minimal basic functionality — to stay alive in space for a short period and send back health and picture data — which has been tested to and passed NASA environmental testing specifications, and yet whose parts cost amount to $3500. The core systems on the satellite are the Nexus 1 phone sold by Google, external batteries, an external radio beacon and a watchdog circuit. The latter provides simple monitoring of the systems and reboots the phone if radio packets stop being sent. These are all housed in 1-U (10x10x10cm) cubesat shell. Three copies of the satellite are built and are manifested on and awaiting a Taurus II rocket set for a summer 2012 launch.
PhoneSat 2.0 aims to build on and supplement the capabilities of PhoneSat 1.0. The aim is to have a completely functional satellite bus. The key ingredients of which that are not in PhoneSat 1.0 are a two-way radio to be able to command the satellite from the ground, solar arrays to enable it to be a long duration mission and a system of attitude control. The milestone is to have completed, launched and gathered data from the PhoneSat 2.0 satellite. PhoneSat 2.0 is currently set to launch mid-year of 2013.
Beyond PhoneSat 2.0
The current vision beyond PhoneSat 2.0 is two-fold: (1) to start using PhoneSat 2.0 bus to do science and exploration missions — i.e. start utilising the benefits of PhoneSat and (2) to continue to push forward breakthrough technologies that enable (a) an increase in capabilities and (b) a decrease in cost. There are several directions that each could take: dispersed sensor heliophysics missions, missions to do space qualification of components, debris or NEO tracking, low cost Earth observation, Lunar and other exploration missions, add GPS, foldable design. These can all lead to significant new performance. The GPS could enable an array of missions not possible without. The foldable design would entail compacting the PhoneSat bus into a smaller volume which folds out. This would enable multiple satellites to be launched per 1U size and since launch costs dominate, a lower overall mission cost. The PhoneSat 2 year milestone is to have iterated through several designs to produce a PhoneSat 3.0 which supports the vision beyond PhoneSat 2.0 with a primary focus on (a) dispersed sensors mission support and (b) a foldable design. The vision is to continue to *decrease* the cost AND *increase* the capability. Pursue both vectors simultaneously.
- The 1-year milestone is to have completed, launched and gathered data from the PhoneSat 2.0 satellite. PhoneSat 2.0 is set to launch in June of 2013. (1 year)
- The 2-year milestone is to have iterated through several designs to produce a PhoneSat 3.0 which supports the vision beyond PhoneSat 2.0 with a primary focus on (a) dispersed sensor heliophysics mission and (b) a foldable design. (2 year)