UK scientists to launch first “smartphone satellite”

Scientists in the United Kingdom are ready to launch the world’s first “smartphone satellite” into orbit, partly produced by 3D printer.

The 30cm STRaND-1 “cubesat” will feature a Google Nexus smartphone running Android, which will be carried on a side panel of the satellite during the device’s six-month orbit of the Earth.  

The smartphone satellite is set for launch from India later this month.

The researchers – a team combining individuals from the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) based at the University of Surrey – explain that the aim behind the smartphone satellite mission is to put modern day consumer electronics to the test.

“This is about looking at the latest technologies that are out there and seeing whether they are up to the harsh challenge of space,” Dr Chris Bridges, SSC lead engineer on the project, told BBC News.

Meanwhile, explaining the “world first” element to the project – mobile phones having sent into the atmosphere on helium balloons and operated by humans inside the International Space Station – the STRaND-1 project website boasts: “Mobile phone technology has made giant leaps in the last 5 years, and no-one has flown a full mobile phone in what we would call “proper” space… yet!”

During phase one the satellite will be controlled from a specially developed cubesat computer at the base station at the University of Surrey, while STRaND-1 will run a number of apps, selected through a Facebook competition in 2011.

The four winning apps include iTesa, which will measure the magnetic field around the phone in orbit hoping to confirm certain scientific principles, and the STRAND Data app, which will advance graphical telemetry.  

More entertainment-oriented apps were also chosen. Postcards from Space and 360 are joint-winners, providing an app by which members of the public will be able to request unique photographs from space, while the final winner, Scream in Space, was developed by students from the University of Cambridge testing the famous 1979 film “Alien” claim that “in space, no-one can hear you scream” by playing videos of members of the public screaming, to be filmed on camera testing whether the screams are audible.

In the second stage of the mission, full operation of the satellite will be transferred to the smartphone, as such testing the various elements of everyday smartphones.

The Google Nexus One phone featured in the satellite has not been stripped.

Posted in: Gadgets

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