NASA PhoneSat: “Crowd-sourced science” via ham radio

-August 16, 2013

EDN’s Dylan McGrath reported the successful launch and mission of the first PhoneSats launched into space on his blog back in June.

See the video below regarding the first launch on the OSI Antares rocket and development of the first PhoneSats. In this video, you will see the NASA mentor, Jim Cockrell and a bright young man, Jasper Wolfe, who was a student in Australia, came to NASA and finished his degree and began to do this important work on getting PhoneSat ready for deployment.

Since I have just had the pleasure of a full day tour of the NASA Ames facility at Moffett Field in California, thanks to the Littelfuse Speed2Design contest with which you can still enter for a NASA trip, I can report to you two more upcoming flights from this innovative NASA PhoneSat team. I met Jim Cockrell, mentor and Jasper Wolfe, young engineer in their lab with some other young team member engineers----average age of 23 years!

Wolfe told us that NASA’s next generation PhoneSat satellites to be launched on November 6 and December 6, will emit packets over the amateur radio band at 437.425 MHz. Satellites transmit using AFSK (1200 bps) modulation, AX.25 packet coding and have vertical linear polarization. As in the first launch, hence the term “Crowd-sourced science” coined by mentor Jim Cockrell.

The two PhoneSat 2 and 3 satellites will transmit with a periodicity of respectively 28 seconds and 30 seconds. The PhoneSat 2.0 beta satellite, Alexander, transmit with a periodicity of 25 seconds. One satellite will be up there for two years and the other for three months.

PhoneSat satellites are emitting packets on the amateur radio spectrum to report different types of messages. The details of these packets can be found on the packets page once the satellites are launched. If you are an amateur radio operator and you can receive these packets, you have the great opportunity to contribute to the project by submitting them. The dashboard page will give you all the information you need to track the satellites in real time.

The images were stitched together as part of NASA's PhoneSat project, which aimed to show how existing technology could be incorporated into powerful low-cost satellites. You can see the chart on top of the bench on which the team put the puzzle of individual photos of Earth together for a larger composite image below. The desk containing PhoneSats in various stages of completion along with a Velleman High-Q breadboard with Microhard Systems MK2420 2.4 GHz wireless modem in a motherboard configuration attached to the SmartPhone. See Figure 1 and Figure 2.

Figure 1: The PhoneSat display table has various parts of the design including the Velleman breadboard shown in the center front area of the desk in the Phone Sat lab.


Figure 2: The Velleman breadboard with Microhard Systems MK2420 modem motherboard and SmartPhone comprises the heart of the PhoneSat system


More details to come about PhoneSat in a more comprehensive article coming up on my EDN Analog Design Center.

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