Brit engineers to put mobile phone in space later this year

January 24th, 2011 - 1:39 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 24 (ANI): With an aim to see if the sophisticated capabilities in today’s phones will function in the most challenging environment known, British engineers are planning to put a mobile phone into space later this year.

The team at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and Surrey Space Centre (SSC), however, refused to disclose the exact model of the phone, which is expected to run on Google’s Android operating system.

It will be used to control a 30cm-long satellite and take pictures of the Earth during the mission.Although mobile phones have been flown on high altitude balloons before, this would likely be the first time such a device has gone into orbit several hundred kilometres above the planet, reports the BBC.

“Modern smartphones are pretty amazing,” said SSTL project manager Shaun Kenyon.

“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,” he added.

The venture is part of the company’s quest to find more inexpensive, off-the-shelf electronics that can be used to lower the cost of its spacecraft designs.

The mobile model being used in the mission, known as STRaND-1 (Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstration), will be a standard, sub-300 pounds smartphone.

“We’re not taking it apart; we’re not gutting it; we’re not taking out the printed circuit boards and re-soldering them into our satellite - we’re flying it as is,” said Kenyon.

“In fact, we’re going to have another camera on the satellite so we can take a picture of the phone because we want to operate the screen and have some good images of that as well,” he added.

Critical to the whole endeavour is the phone’s operating system.

Android is an open source software which means SSTL’s engineers can modify it to adapt the phone’s functions.

The great swings in temperature and the harsh radiation found in space require the phone be placed inside the satellite casing to give it some protection.

A hole will have to be cut in the side of the casing therefore to allow the phone’s camera lens to see out.

The phone itself will not ‘call home’; messages and pictures will come back via the satellite’s radio link.

For the first part of the mission, the mobile will act as the back up to the main computer on the spacecraft.

After a period of time, however, the phone will be put in charge.

“If a smartphone can be proved to work in space, it opens up lots of new technologies to a multitude of people and companies for space who usually can’t afford it. It’s a real game-changer for the industry,” said Chris Bridges from SSC. (ANI)

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