STRaND-1 Smartphone Nanosatellite


Q  What model is the phone?

We're not prepared to say at this time, although that could change after discussions with the manufacturer.  The point of the STRaND-1 project is not to endorse a particular phone, but to test the capabiliites of a smartphone to control a satellite in space.  We did an in-depth study to choose the particular phone based on our own criteria, but a lot of today's smartphones have comparable qualities.  

Q  Have you considered the radiation environment?  

Absolutely.  SSTL has heritage in using COTS components in space and intimately understands how to shield sensitive equipment from the radiation environment in space.  We are also performing radiation tests on the model of the phone on the ground before launch so that we know what to expect from the phone in space. 

Q  How are you stopping the phone battery from getting too cold?

The onboard computer will monitor the temperature of the phone battery.  If it sees it is getting too cold, it will trigger a processor intensive program to run on the mobile phone, which will warm it up.

Q  Haven't people already put phones into space?

A number of groups have put smartphones onto high altitude helium-filled weather balloons.  These are exciting experiments in themselves that fly very high in the atmosphere, but atmosphere is the key word! 
NASA Ames have even put them on top of sub-orbital sounding rockets.

Smartphones have also floated inside the shuttle and international space station, but they were operated by humans, in air, and so these were not subjected to the harshness of space. 

An interesting Japanese mission called Cute-1.7 was launched in 2006 which used circuit boards taken from two PDAs. 

Mobile phone technology has made giant leaps in the last 5 years, and no-one has flown a full mobile phone in what we would call "proper" space...yet!

Q  How much does it cost?

The phone itself costs less than £350.  The STRaND-1 satellite as a whole will cost only slightly more than a high-end family car.

Q  Isn't this just adding more space junk?

As a responsible space operator we take our space debris commitments very seriously.  It's worth noting that the orbits of most nanosats degrade quicker than larger satellites because they have a higher surface area to mass ratio, and often come down and burn up in the atmosphere within the 25 year international guidelines.  But on top of this, we're equipping STRaND-1 with two types of thruster so that when we've completed our mission objectives we can lower our orbit altitude as much as possible to speed up the orbit degradation. 

Q  Are you using the built-in phone GPS?

No. Terrestial GPS units cut out and stop working about 60,000 ft so on STRaND-1 we are including an SGR-05U, which is a very small standard space-rated GPS unit built by SSTL.

Q  Do Google know you are doing this?

Yes they do, and they think it's a cool idea.