Homemade Cellphone Satellites

cellphone satellite rocket

If you look up “cell phone satellite”, what you get is a telecommunications satellite or comparisons between cell phones and satellite phones. This blog post is about neither. Instead, I’m musing on the concept of building satellites.

Like many geeks, I have an interest in outer space for whatever reason. Oh well, maybe after I die and go to heaven I’ll get to visit, but for now I’m confined to terrestrial occupation and perhaps occasional aeronautical transportation along with the general populace. But a guy can dream, right?

Not more than a hundred years ago, people were just beginning to convert dreams into actuality. Early rocket history is interesting for nerds, probably because it’s so complicated and does things that are so unusual and seemingly pointless at the time of their invention (why would you want to live in space?). The likelihood of success for rockets is, even today, very small. SpaceX, despite having automated their production of rockets, still suffered a very expensive explosion. Obviously, putting something up isn’t easy. Nevertheless, a bunch of amateurs around the country spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours creating their own custom flying explosives, hoping the only explosion at the end is a small one to release the parachute.

I don’t exactly have thousands of dollars to spare in cash or a good launch site or I’d be with them, but as I started to think about what I wanted to do with a rocket – particularly upper atmospheric research with probes – and the fact that I didn’t want to program in Assembly, I realized that cheapening costs have made it possible for just about any geek with enough dedication (and yes, some extra dough) could put together his own satellite relatively inexpensively.

Given the cheapening of technology, it is possible to construct a probe using a smart watch or smart phone and probably without having to reprogram the whole thing. Forget RaspberryPi, how about Android? Granted, it’s not as fast as Assembly, but it does allow for multiple apps to handle the different features. Phones already have built-in cameras, so maybe a mirror or two might be needed, depending on what you want you want to get. The phone could even send the data back to earth in real-time. A USB cord going out to a sensor could be used for collecting data, like sampling the atmosphere, and saving it in the extra memory chip in the phone. Many phones have built-in gyroscopes, maps, and compasses, so you could track direction and location of the rocket and where you collected your samples.

A good phone with all the features for the job might cost quite a bit, and if you want it back, you’ll need to invest so serious work in the capsule so it doesn’t interfere with parachute deployment. For a “cheaper” approach, you could use helium balloons.

All that said, I have no doubt some other geeks have already figured this out and done it many times before the thought ever occurred to me, and I’m sure the thought occurred to me a number of years earlier, but it makes a good blog post. The cool thing is that cell phone technology has made a number of endeavors possible for the cash-strapped, garage scientist.

Maybe the biggest hurdle isn’t so much the technical one as it is the legal one. You still have to find an appropriate launch site, get the permission of the right government agencies, and take all the necessary safety precautions. Don’t expect your home owners insurance to cover this.

As for me, I’m going to keep this article short and let the truly interested research the best options.


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