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Cheaper, Better Satellites Made From Cellphones and Toys

posted Mar 10, 2011, 9:09 PM by Cesar Harada
it is important to develop the remotely operated imagery system for Protei early on. As a matter of fact, researching in that area may bring a lot of solutions for how we also transmit commands and information pacets in general. 

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — Instead of investing in their own computer research and development, engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center are looking to cellphones and off-the-shelf toys to power the future of low-cost satellite technology.

The smartphone in your pocket has about 120 times more computing power than the average satellite, which has the equivalent of a 1984-era computer inside.

“You can go to Walmart and buy toys that work better than satellites did 20 years ago,” said NASA physicist Chris Boshuizen. “And your cellphone is really a $500 robot in your pocket that can’t get around. A lot of the real innovation now happens in entertainment and cellphone technology, and NASA should be going forward with their stuff.”

The biggest challenge of sending cellphones and toys into space is whether the parts can get up there without shaking apart and work in a vacuum at extreme high and low temperatures.

To do some preliminary testing, two Nexus One cellphones caught rides on two rockets on July 24 that launched 30,000 feet into the atmosphere at a maximum speed of mach 2.4 (about 1,800 miles per hour). One of the rockets crashed into the ground after its parachute failed, but the other made it back with the cellphone unscathed.

Both cellphones were able to record the acceleration of the rocket using their built-in accelerometers, and the undamaged phone captured 2.5 hours of video of the event through a hole in the side of the rocket.

Intimidator 5 rocket launch

Retrieving the Nexus One cellphone from the rocket post-launch

“Everything that didn’t break is a piece of data,” said volunteer engineer Ben Howard. “We know that the batteries didn’t break and that the computer worked the whole time.”

If the cellphones ultimately get used to power satellites, they will probably be sent up without a screen and with a different battery to make them lighter. The screen and battery make up 90 percent of the Nexus One’s weight.

Next, the team will build a stabilizing mechanism for the satellite using the cellphone, $100 toy gyroscopes and parts similar to those of the Mindstorms Lego, so the satellite can orient itself in space. By installing three spinning gyroscopes and getting them to spin at different velocities, a satellite can move in any direction. The same technique is currently used on many satellites, but requires multimillion dollar technology.

The project will likely use CubeSat’s as a standardized carrying case for their cellphone-powered satellites, because the boxes have already been tested and are known to hold up in the journey. Often companies who are sending up satellites on rockets have extra space on their rockets, which is how most amateur satellites will likely get into space, and the people paying like to be sure that nothing will break and damage the rocket on the way up.

The whole goal of the project is to make satellites cheap and affordable, so that anyone with bit of time and a couple of thousand dollars can send their own satellite into space.

Upgrading the computing power of satellites using cellphones would mean increased satellite capabilities, possibly including artificial intelligence.

“We’re not sure yet exactly what people will want to do with their satellites, and that’s the point,” said NASA education specialist Matt Reyes. “What can you imagine doing with your phone in space?”

NASA team members Matt Reyes (left) and Chris Boshuizen with a Nexus One phone

Images: 1) Toy satellite parts, and the two cellphones that were retrieved from the rocket launch/ Stefan Armijo/Wired.com. 2) motorbikematt/Flickr. 3) motorbikematt/Flickr. 4) Stefan Armijo/Wired.com.


Also check http://opensat.cc/ the OSSI initiative in South Korea. 

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