Google smartphone sat set for orbit




The world’s first “smartphone-sat” is ready for launch.


Known as Strand-1, the British-built spacecraft will be fully controlled by a Google Nexus device during part of its six-month mission in orbit.


The project has been led from the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), both in Guildford.


Strand-1 was packed off to India this week for a rocket launch that is likely to occur at the end of the month.


The Nexus One has not been physically modified in anyway and will be an interesting test of everyday consumer electronics, says Dr Chris Bridges, SSC’s lead engineer on the venture.


“We haven’t gutted the Nexus. We’ve done lots and lots of tests on it; we’ve put our own software on it. But we’ve essentially got a regular phone, connected up the USB to it and put it in the satellite,” he told BBC News.


“This is about looking at the latest technologies that are out there and seeing whether they are up to the harsh challenge of space.”

Thrusting approach

The smartphone will fly pressed up against a side panel of the 30cm-long, 4.3kg “cubesat”.


This will allow its 5-megapixel camera to look out through a hole and take pictures of the Earth and the Moon.


Strand is an acronym that stands for Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstration. It is part of a quest to find new thinking and new technologies.


Strand 1The finished Strand-1 was sent to India this week for a launch at the end of the month


SSTL, which is a world leader in the production of small commercial spacecraft, hopes some of the Strand lessons can filter through to its more traditional products.


For the first part of the mission, the satellite will be controlled by a new high-speed Linux-based cubesat computer developed at SSC, which is part of the University of Surrey.


An important goal during these early weeks will be to test two innovative propulsion systems.


One uses the ejection of a water-alcohol mixture to provide thrust. The system is tiny but has a grand name – Warp Drive (Water Alcohol Resisto-jet Propulsion De-orbit Re-entry Velocity Experiment).


The second propulsion technology on Strand is its pulsed plasma thrusters. These use an electric current to heat and ablate a material, producing a charged gas that can then be accelerated in one direction in a magnetic field to push the cubesat in the other direction.


Both propulsion systems produce only small amounts of thrust but are very efficient in terms of how much “propellant” they consume.



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