PhoneSats in Orbit, Transmitting Data To Listeners Worldwide


After a few delays, the inaugural mission of the Orbital Sciences Antares mission successfully made it into orbit on April 21st. While the mission didn’t carry the actual spacecraft Antares is designed to lift (that’s currently slated for June), it didn’t go up there empty handed.

The Antares rocket safely delivered all three of NASA’s PhoneSats into their intended orbit, and according to amateur radio operators all over the world, the three micro-satellites are performing as expected.

NASA's PhoneSat
NASA’s PhoneSat

Global Effort

As the PhoneSat satellites have rather limited transmission capability, NASA is relying on a global network of amateur (AKA ham) radio operators to keep an ear out for these tiny little craft.

By openly documenting the spacecraft’s packet protocols, listing the frequencies they will be transmitting on, and even displaying an animated map to show where each PhoneSat is in the sky, NASA has given the public everything they need to receive regular downlinks.

Once a radio operator has received one of these broadcasts, he or she can upload it to the site, where it will be cataloged. When enough data has been collected, NASA will (hopefully) be able to piece together information spanning the entire mission, including the sensor data and images the PhoneSats are constantly sending out.

Listen Up

Interested in trying your hand at receiving signals from these Android-powered spacecraft?

It’s not nearly as complex as you probably think, as there are now multiple low-cost USB radios which can be used to receive satellite transmissions. All you need is a decent antenna, and some patience.

Take a look at our guide on RTL-SDR for some ideas on how you can get started in the fascinating world of amateur radio for around $30 USD.

About Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: .