This Hitchhiking Satellite — Launching Today — Is Small Enough To Fit In Your Hand

by Elizabeth Howell on November 19, 2013

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A "PhoneSat", which is intended to show how ordinary consumer devices can explore space. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart

A “PhoneSat”, which is intended to show how ordinary consumer devices can explore space. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart

Talk about tiny technology. The NASA PhoneSat 2.4, which is set to launch today (Nov. 19), is so small that the satellite can easy fit in just one of your hands. The agency is quite excited about this second in the series of PhoneSat launches; the first, in April, saw three “smartphone satellites” working in orbit for a week.

PhoneSat is scheduled to launch as a hitchhiker aboard a rocket that will carry the  U.S. Air Force Office of Responsive Space ORS-3 mission. The payloads will lift off from the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

“It’s tabletop technology,” stated Andrew Petro, program executive for small spacecraft technology at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Andrew Petro, NASA Small Satellite Program executive, holds NASA Smartphone Phonesat replica launched on Antares test flight on April 21, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

Andrew Petro, NASA Small Satellite Program executive, holds NASA Smartphone Phonesat replica launched on Antares test flight on April 21, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

“The size of a PhoneSat makes a big difference. You don’t need a building, just a room. Everything you need to do becomes easier and more portable. The scale of things just makes everything, in many ways, easier. It really unleashes a lot of opportunity for innovation.”

PhoneSat will be at a higher altitude than its predecessors, NASA added, allowing controllers to gather information on the radiation environment to see how well vital electronics would be affected. In the long run, the agency hopes these tiny machines can be used for Earth science or communications, among other things.

“For example, work is already underway on the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission,” NASA stated. “The EDSN effort consists of a loose formation of eight identical cubesats in orbit, each able to cross-link communicate with each other to perform space weather monitoring duties.”

The launch is expected at 7:30 pm EST (12:30 a.m. UTC) and you can follow it on NASA TV.

If you live along the US and Canada east coast, you may be able to see the launch if the skies are clear. The map below shows where it might be visible. See the Orbital Sciences Corp. website for more info.

A map showing where the launch will be on the East Coast on Nov. 19, 2013. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation.

A map showing where the launch will be on the East Coast on Nov. 19, 2013. Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation.

Source: NASA

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Bob November 20, 2013 at 7:29 AM

Excellent potential especially for attaching to and deorbiting space junk.

Oh! I wonder if these cubesats will deorbit or add to the debris

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