Tag Archives: Nexus One

Phones in Space? Where is the frontier?

So, If I tell you that a satellite is pretty much a smartphone that orbits around the earth you will think that I am totally ‘banuts’. But my case is not totally lost. A satellite is basically a set of electronic components put together in a frame that communicates with a ground station. A smart phone is basically a set of electronic components put together in a frame that communicates with a ground station. Hum! Looks the same right? The big difference is that a satellite will normally orbit the earth, and a smartphone will orbit your head.

Ok, a bit more on my case. To be more technical I should add that a satellite usually has the following subsystems to operate:

  • A battery system to keep the electronics operable
  • A processing unit to do the necessary computations with the data
  • A telecommunications unit (radio + antenna) to transmit data to the grund station
  • Sensors for attitude determination
  • A payload to do cool stuff  (like a camera)

All of these are found to a certain degree on a smartphone. The cool thing is that a smartphone has more processing power than most satellites out there (yes, we’re still putting 133 MHz processors in space), it has more memory, it has a GPS, a camera and multi-axis sensors like accelerometers and gyros. Isn’t then a smart-phone a small satellite too? I say yes! …

Apparently the guys at NASA Ames also say yeah! and are doing something I think is totally COOL. They’re going to launch an Android (Nexus One) to space in the final quarter of this year (most likely in October). They have already launched it to suborbital space using a ballon, it went up to 100,000 ft (approx. 30 km) and they’ve done some rocket launches. There is a short documentary about the PhoneSat suborbital test launch. You can see the video here:

Also, check out some pictures they have out there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/5479393514/

I think this case of the smartphone in space shows that the democratization of technology has reached the space exploration endeavor. Now it’s a matter of time to see what kind of technologies will go to space. Arduinos, Beagle Boards, Gumstix, cheap cameras, … ?

If you know of more projects like this drop me a note. 🙂

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