Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Can You Hear Me Major Tom?

Normally, space exploration creates new technologies, which in turn are adopted to create new terrestrial products. Now UK engineers are planning to test an Android mobile phone in space. The aim of using the phone will be used to lower the cost of spacecraft by using off the shelf electronics and it will initially control a 30cm-long satellite and take pictures of the Earth.

Last year, researchers at the NASA sent two HTC Nexus One phones into the atmosphere. One phone failed but the other captured more than two-and-a-half hours of video footage

The mobile model to be used by researchers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), has not been specified, but it will be a standard, smartphone with a camera available in High Street stores. Critical to the whole endeavour is the phone's operating system. Android open source software is critical as it enables the engineers to adapt the phone's functions.

There will however be no Major Tom moment where the phone fails to contact ground control as the phone itself will not "call home" and all messages and pictures will come back via the satellite's radio link.

If the standard smartphone can work in space, it opens up space to many who usually can't afford it. It also demonstrates the power we all carry around with us today and often take for granted.

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