British researchers plan to launch an android into orbit--not the C-3PO and R2-D2 kind, but an Android smartphone. It's not the first attempt to launch an Android phone into space, but it's the first that's aiming to make a smartphone the brain for an orbital satellite.
The STRaND-1 (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) is being made from advanced and off-the-shelf components by Surrey Satellite Technology, a spinoff of the University of Surrey, and the university's Surrey Space Centre. The project has a few stated goals.
The first is to see if a smartphone can function in the hostile environment that is space. It will live in a protective case, and a computer on the satellite will put the phone through a number of tests to determine which components (sensors, video cameras, GPS systems, Wi-Fi radios, and so on) do and don't work in orbit.
If enough parts of the handset pass muster, the custom software will be tested next. If that works as planned, the smartphone will be used to operate parts of the satellite. The phone's cellular radio won't be used, as there are no cell towers in space (yet). Instead, the team will communicate with the phone using the satellite radio technology already in place. That said, some of the phone's other systems--processor, RAM, storage, and camera, just to name a few--will be used.
A camera will likely be outfitted so the controllers on the ground can see the screen. This will allow the scienticians to control the phone with their own custom software packages. The ability to load custom software payloads and its open-source nature is the reason why Android was chosen as the first phone OS for the stars.
The satellite will rely on its own GPS, guidance, and thrusters, but will use the phone as a backup to the main computer. Then, if all goes well, it will take over as the main "brain" and control the satellite's functions. … Read more