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NASA smartphone satellites beam clear images of Earth

The trio of Android smartphones NASA blasted into orbit recently have ended their journey by burning up in the atmosphere, but not before snapping shots of Earth -- and the pictures don't look too bad.

The "PhoneSats" were a NASA experiment to develop super-cheap satellites and to determine whether a consumer-grade smartphone can be used as the main flight avionics of a capable satellite, NASA said.

[ RELATED: 13 awesome and scary things in near Earth space 

MORE: NASA identifies top 10 space junk missions ]

NASA says the three miniature satellites used their smartphone cameras to take pictures of Earth and transmitted these "image-data packets" to multiple ground stations. As part of their preparation for space, the smartphones were outfitted with a low-powered transmitter operating in the amateur radio band. 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.

Piecing together the photo was a very successful collaboration between NASA's PhoneSat team and volunteer amateur ham radio operators around the world. NASA researchers and hams working together was an excellent example of Citizen Science, or crowd-sourced science, which is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. On the second day of the mission, the Ames team had received more than 200 packets from amateur radio operators.

"Three days into the mission we already had received more than 300 data packets," said Alberto Guillen Salas, an engineer at Ames and a member of the PhoneSat team. "About 200 of the data packets were contributed by the global community and the remaining packets were received from members of our team with the help of the Ames Amateur Radio Club station, NA6MF."

The mission successfully ended Saturday, April 27, after predicted atmospheric drag caused the PhoneSats to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up, NASA said.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: @nwwlayer8 and on Facebook.

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