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Smartphones in Space

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

January 24, 2011

Smartphones in Space

By Chris DiMarco, TMCnet Web Editor

The evolution of smartphones has exploded in recent years, leaving many with pocket sized devices as powerful,  if not more powerful than desktop and laptop computers. In an attempt to reduce the astronomical costs (pun intended) of space exploration a group of British engineers will be blasting a smatphone into orbit to see what the machine is capable of.

The experiment is being run by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited and aims to determine if a phone can survive in the extreme environment of space and what it is capable of once there.  In orbit the engineers will attempt to use the phone to control a satellite to take pictures and conduct geographic surveys. The mission is known as STRaND-1 (Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstration).

"Modern smartphones are pretty amazing," said SSTL project manager Shaun Kenyon in a BBC interview. "They come now with processors that can go up to 1GHz, and they have loads of flash memory. First of all, we want to see if the phone works up there, and if it does, we want to see if the phone can control a satellite."

Considering the first space launches took used computers that could barely faster than a calculator, space exploration programs could benefit from inexpensive CPU power offered by consumer goods.

Though an exact model has not been chosen yet, the phone will be android based and will be under $450. At first the scientists will be interacting with the phone sending it requests and conducting routine maintenance, but eventually the phone will be automated allowing it to make decision and perform tasks on its own.

If the phone passes the tests the results could be a reduction in operating cost for the burgeoning commercial spaceflight industry.

Chris DiMarco is a Web Editor for TMCnet. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University. Prior to joining TMC (News - Alert) Chris worked with e-commerce provider Suresource as a contact center representative and development analyst. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Chris DiMarco

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