British scientists to send first “smartphone satellite” into space

The world’s very first mobile phone-operated satellite is being readied for launch by the United Kingdom. The spacecraft, called STRaND-1 (Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstration satellite), was developed by the University of Surrey researchers and will be fully controlled using a Google Nexus phone for part of its mission, expected to last for a period of six months.

STRaND-1 satellite’s core is built from an unmodified Nexus one smartphone which runs Google’s Android OS. In a statement, Surrey Space Center’s lead engineer Dr. Chris Bridges said: “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.”

An ultra-fast linux-based CubeSat computer will operate the STRaND-1 satellite during its first phase of mission, all while the smartphone gathers data through experimental apps. Meanwhile, on its second phase, STRaND-1 satellite will change operations to the smartphone to test the capabilities of standard smartphone components in space.

The STRaND-1 satellite will also be the first spacecraft to test two new propulsion technologies. First, the Water Alcohol Resisto-jet Propulsion De-Orbit Re-Entry Velocity Experiment (Warp Drive). This experiment makes use of the ejection of a water alcohol mixture to provide thrust. The second one is the Pulsed Plasma Thrusters. The experiment makes use of an electric current to heat and ablate a material to produce a charged gas that is subsequently accelerated by a magnetic field to push the cubesat along.

The mobile phone-operated satellite is a joint project between the Surrey Satellite Technology and Surrey Space Center. The satellite will be operated from the Surrey Space Center’s ground station at the University of Surrey, and is scheduled to be sent into space from India on February 25.

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