Smartphones in Space – STRaND-1 using a Google Nexus One for satellite operations

It seems someone is always coming up with a new application or novel use for their smartphone. Now we can add satellite operations to the latest list of smartphone innovations.

STRaND and team

STRaND-1 satellite with team members from Surrey Space Center and Surrey Satellite Technology (credit SSTL)

The STRaND-1 satellite was successfully launched into space on 25 February 2013 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. STRaND-1 (which stands for Surrey Training, Research, and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) contains a complete Google Nexus One running the Android operating system. According to STRaND-1 developers, this isn’t some “stripped-down” version of the phone, but rather the whole phone “mounted against one of the panels, with the phone camera peeping out through a porthole.”

STRaND-1 was developed by researchers at the University of Surrey’s Surrey Space Center as well as engineers from Surrey Satellite Technology. This is the first contribution from the United Kingdom following the satellite design specifications of the CubeSat program. By standardizing the design format of nanosatellites, the CubeSat program provides a cost-efficient avenue to launch and deploy small satellites. Organizations building CubeSats largely originate from academia, mostly universities and high schools, but also include commercial companies.

In the case of STRaND-1, the satellite measures just 10cm x 30cm in size and weighs only 4.3kg. And the satellite was built using mostly commercial off-the-shelf components. The Google Nexus One smartphone will be used to run a number of Apps, including a collection of Apps selected from a community competition. These include: ‘iTesa’, which will record the magnitude of the magnetic field around the phone; ‘STRAND Data’, which will display satellite telemetry data on the phone; ‘360’, which will be used to collect imagery of the Earth using the phone’s camera and then use this imagery to establish satellite position; and ‘Scream in Space’, which will be used to project user-uploaded screams into space using the phone’s speakers.

After the initial phase of operation and experiments using a linux-based computer, also onboard the satellite, a second phase of the STRaND-1 mission will switch satellite operations to the smartphone. This will not only further test the ability of off-the-shelf phone components to operate in a space environment, but also validate the phone’s ability to run advanced guidance, navigation and control systems. With this achievement, STRaND-1 will become the first ever smartphone-operated satellite.

The next time you pick up your phone, think about the possibilities.

For more information on STRaND-1: http://www.sstl.co.uk/Missions/STRaND-1

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