Phones have been sent into space before, but never into orbit. Mobile phones have touched and changed almost every part of our lives. Now they are heading into space. The satellite lies in pieces, strewn across the table. It doesn’t remotely look like a spacecraft. At first the idea of putting a phone in space sounds like a stunt. But when you think about it, a smart phone is a remarkable piece of technology. “It’s got sensors on it we all use for gaming, it’s got the camera, “Apart from solar panels, this thing pretty much is a satellite.”
Android is going to space. Smartphone’s have previously been part of NASA shuttle missions as productivity tools and for experimentation. This time, however, an Android smart phone will, itself, be the core of the satellite.
The phone will be the focus of the sit-30cm (11in) long beach-1 satellite, which will cut a hole in the side for the camera. Apps are designed to capture “Postcards from Space”, another is hoping to prove conclusively whether it is true that in space no one can hear you scream. To do this, the phone screaming and trying to record onto its built-in microphone. Other applications will exploit the phone’s built-in magnetometer – used for its compass – the magnetic field around the satellite measured. There is even the Wi-Fi capability.“We have one more bit of electronics inside the satellite, which will pick up the Wi-Fi signal. So there will be a wireless intra-satellite link.
With the STRaND-1 project, British company Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. hopes to launch smart phone satellite into orbit. Smartphone have almost everything needed, including cameras, magnetometers and communications equipment. Mobile Phones are known to withstand extreme conditions, including being left on a car dashboard under the hot sun, or still being operational despite the cold of winter. Developers said they have tried subjecting an Android phone to a vacuum chamber, oven and freezer with no adverse effects.
Strand stands for “Surrey Training Research and Nano satellite Demonstration,” which is apt for how project engineers want to utilize smart phones to prove their capability in space orbit. While STRaND-1 is itself still in pieces, the team is continually building upon the project. The satellite itself measures 11 inches and will have a hole cut out to accommodate the Smartphone’s camera. Once launched into orbit, STRaND-1 will take “postcards from space” with the various onboard apps.
STRaND-1 will also test the Smartphone’s other systems in space, including its Wi-Fi, magnetometer and microphone. In particular, the developers want to help reduce the weight of satellites by using wireless communication instead of wires. Strand-1 will help test this hypothesis.
“We have one more bit of electronics inside the satellite, which will pick up the Wi-Fi signal. So there will be a wireless intra-satellite link”. “This is a very interesting experiment in terms of the much larger satellite, where the weight of all cables is not to be negligible. So, if you could use WLAN in the large satellite, then you are saving a lot of ground.”
When it comes to smart phones is in the room, beach-1 is not clear. Mobile phones are already been on a high altitude weather balloons, and even flown on rockets. And last year an attempt was made to send a phone number on a suborbital flight. Unfortunately, a rocket failure led to return to Earth in pieces. As for orbital flights, beach-1 has serious competition from a U.S. project: PhoneSat. Supported by NASA, and packed with applications is due to start early next year PhoneSat.
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