Android in space: satellite controlled using Nexus One

A British team is putting the finishing touches to the first-ever satellite to be controlled entirely by a mobile phone.

The Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator, STRaND-1, is a 30-centimeter CubeSat weighing 4.3kg. It will launch into a 785km sun-synchronous orbit on ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from Sriharikota, India, on February 25.

STRaND-1 will be Britain’s first CubeSat, and has been put together and tested in just three months.

“We’ve deliberately asked this enthusiastic and talented young team to do something very non-standard in terms of the timescales, processes and the technologies used to put the satellite together because we want to maximise what we learn from this research programme,” says Surrey Satellite Technology Limited ’s Head of Science, Doug Liddle.

At the heart of the satellite is a Google Nexus One smartphone running Android. Smartphones are now so comprehensively kitted out that a standard model has all the tools for the job: cameras, radio links, accelerometers and high performance computer processors – “almost everything except the solar panels and propulsion”, says the team.

STRaND-1’s first task will be to use a number of experimental apps to collect data, while a new high-speed Linux-based CubeSat computer developed by SSC runs the satellite.  

During phase two, the team plans to switch the satellite’s in-orbit operations to the smartphone, testing how its components cope in space.

“A smartphone on a satellite like this has never been launched before but our tests have been pretty thorough, subjecting the phone to oven and freezer temperatures, to a vacuum and blasting it with radiation,” says Dr Chris Bridges, lead engineer on the project at the University of Surrey’s Surrey Space Centre.

“It has a good chance of working as it should, but you can never make true design evolutions or foster innovation without taking a few risks: STRaND is cool because it allows us to do just that.”