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Tuesday, June 11, 2013 | Latest audio lessons → VOA Learning English

Smartphones in Space: a Really Long-Distance Call for NASA

From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report. Smartphones are small and easy to carry so they are always ready when we need them. People use them to get road directions, to take pictures or to call friends. But we easily forget the power of smartphone microprocessors. Scientists with NASA, the American space agency, have not.

In April, NASA sent three smartphones into space to operate as low-cost satellites. They were launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in the state of Virginia. The launch was the first test flight of the privately built Antares rocket. Space agency officials gave names to the three PhoneSats, as they are called. The names are "Alexander," "Graham" and "Bell," after the inventor of the telephone.

All three PhoneSats looked like small cubes or boxes. Each one was about the size of a drinking cup and weighed a little more than one kilogram. At the heart of each was a Google-HTC Nexus One phone. The microprocessor inside the phone serves as the brain of the mini-satellite. Jim Cockrell works for NASA in California. He says the PhoneSats were an experiment to find out if a cellphone can serve as the avionics for a satellite.

NASA says the PhoneSats operated for almost a week. They collected pictures of the Earth and sent messages to ground stations. The agency says smartphones have more than 100 times the computing power of an average satellite. Jim Cockrell notes that they also have high-resolution cameras and global positioning system receivers. So, the next time you pick up a smartphone, think about the work of the PhoneSats "Alexander," "Graham" and "Bell."

For VOA Learning English, I'm Mario Ritter. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 13May2013)