For nearly one week, NASA engineers at the Ames Research Center collaborated with amateur radio operators from around the world to piece together a photo taken by three smartphones in orbit. The mission was called PhoneSat and was an example of how ‘citizen science’ can work with official scientific institutions to achieve significant results.
Three miniature satellites with smartphones were launched on April 21, 2013 as part of NASA’s nanosatellite mission. The goal of the mission was to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as main flight avionics of a satellite in orbit. The three miniature satellites named Alexander, Graham, and Bell took pictures of the Earth and sent them as “image-data packets” to numerous ground. The satellites were fitted with low-powered transmitters operating in the amateur radio band to enable them to send the data packets.
Ground stations captured the data packets containing small bits of the big picture and pieced them together to form a high-resolution photograph. The Ames team located in Moffett Field, California, received over 200 packets in the second day of the mission alone. On the third day, more than 300 data packets were received by the team. About 200 came from the global community and the rest came from the other members of the team.
It is hoped that the mission results will encourage further research into the implementation of low-cost terrestrial technology to space application, as well as opening up space for the benefit of commercial, academic, and citizen-space users.