Photos of Earth from Smartphones in Orbit


Images of Earth were reconstructed from photos taken by three smartphones in orbit, or “PhoneSats.” Credit NASA

PhoneSats take images of Earth

Launched aboard an  Antares rocket on April 21, 2013 these pictures were taken by three PhoneSats , or nano-satellites comprised mainly of off the shelf smart phones. If you stop to think about it even the most basic smart phone has more capability to compute and capture images than satellites had a very short few decades ago. Launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility the missions ended a successfully on April 27. The objective of the mission was to see if consumer grade electronics could be used as the main avionics for a satellite.

PhoneSat 1.0 during  high-altitude balloon test

PhoneSat 1.0 during
high-altitude balloon test

The 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 PhoneSat project is a technology demonstration mission funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters and the Engineering Directorate at NASA Ames Research Center. The project started in summer 2009 as a student-led collaborative project between Ames and the International Space University, Strasbourg.