Android-Powered Satellite Headed to Space

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First came web browsing, then multitasking, now Android is ready to go where no smartphone platform has gone before: Outer space.

Researchers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) are dissecting Google’s mobile operating system to create the first ever satellite powered by a smartphone.

The 11.8-inch satellite STRAND-1 (Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) will be launched into lower-earth orbit, snapping pictures of Earth on a mission later this year. Where does Android fit into this equation? The commercial smartphone’s guts make up the satellite’s electronic controls. SSTL cannot say which phone they are using.

The SSTL team hopes to prove that the relatively inexpensive components of the Android phone can power a satellite.

“The economic implications of this are really exciting,” mission concepts engineer Shaun Kenyon said. “If these phones stand up to the extreme environments we see in space, it’s amazing to think we could eventually leverage low-cost mobile technology to use in satellite production.”

Satellites and smartphones have a lot in common. Both have cameras, GPS navigation and Wi-Fi connections. The difference is that smartphones accomplish the same functions with much smaller, lighter and cheaper components. The SSTL team hopes to find out if these smartphone pieces can hold-up in space.

The three major challenges the STRAND-1 will face on its mission include temperature extremes, launch vibrations and g-forces, and radiation. A normal phone would not be able to withstand these elements.

While the pieces of the satellite will cost roughly $500, the launch and its associated preparations could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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