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PhoneSat: Modeling a spacecraft for remote imaging

Published onMar 31, 2020
PhoneSat: Modeling a spacecraft for remote imaging

Activity: creating a small satellite to protect your cell phone in outer-space environments!

Background: Small satellites are constantly orbiting Earth, providing useful data about the planet over time. These satellites are designed and built by engineers to withstand the harsh space environment. A “cubesat” is a specific type of small satellite that has very particular specifications, making it easier for people around the world to design and launch. Today, you’ll be turning your phone into a mock-satellite!


It’s your first visit to space as NASA’s newest astronaut - congratulations! Your first mission is to deploy a 1U (10 x 10 x 10 cm) small satellite that takes pictures of the plants and trees in your neighborhood. Your plan is to thrust the satellite into orbit by throwing it outside the International Space Station (ISS). However, during launch, you hear a loud crash - the satellite you have spent the last year designing and building has fallen and broken! Mission control informs you that you are still responsible for getting a satellite into orbit upon your arrival to the ISS. Your new mission is to rebuild the satellite and test a prototype first at home -- one that takes. The only ‘computer’ available to run your satellite? Your smartphone!

  • Using the constraints defined by a cubesat, you will be creating a prototype structure that nests your phone as a “satellite payload”. Think about the subsystems of a satellite, and how your phone can provide those functionalities. You’ll need your satellite to take pictures and communicate with mission control, but you’ll also need to protect it from the harsh environmental factors of space! Upload an image of your creation to the Full STEAM Ahead Exploring CubeSats forums!

  • “Learn one, do one, teach one” - share what you just learned or created with a member of your family!

CubeSat structure dimensions:

Dimensions for PhoneSat build.

CubeSat Subsystems:

  • Power: how will you power your satellite? 

  • Attitude Determination: how will you locate your satellite when it’s orbiting?

  • Communication: how will you talk to and command your satellite?

  • Payload (imager): how often will your camera capture photos, and how will it ‘know’ when to take a picture?

  • Constraints:

  • The cube needs to be exactly 10 cubic centimeters.

  • It needs to open so objects can go inside (your phone or camera!)

  • You can use any materials you like to build it—cardboard, crafts, LEGOs, etc.

Testing Procedures:

  • When completed, the CubeSat will be measured on a scale

  • Each CubeSat’s strength will be tested by dropping it from a height of 6 feet

  • If the CubeSat reaches a failing point (the CubeSat cannot retain its shape), students will revise their work based on their testing data as well as feedback provided by other students

  • A new model will be crafted with adjustments moving toward a better CubeSat model solution

  • New models will be used in a second test.

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