Researchers at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited plan to launch their Strand-1 satellite into orbit around the Earth later this year.
“Smartphones pack lots of components – such as sensors, video cameras, GPS systems and Wifi radios – that are technologically advanced but a fraction of the size, weight and cost of components used in existing satellite systems,” says lead researcher Dr Chris Bridges.
“And because many smartphones also run on free operating systems that lend themselves to online software developers, the creators of applications for smartphones could feasibly develop apps for satellites.”
A computer will test the vital statistics of the phone once in space, checking which components operate normally and whether any malfunction. Images and messages will be radioed back to Earth. Once all the tests are complete, the micro computer will be switched off and the smartphone will be used to operate parts of the satellite.
The four-kilo nano-satellite includes a smartphone avionics suite, as well as advanced guidance, navigation and control systems including miniature reaction wheels, and a GPS receiver. It boasts pulse plasma thrusters to propel it through space.
The smartphone payload cost less than £300, and the whole satellite came to ‘less than a family car’, says the team.
“If a smartphone can be proved to work in space, it opens up lots of new technologies to a multitude of people and companies for space who usually can’t afford it. It’s a real game-changer for the industry,” says Bridges.