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Android Cell Phone Powers Space Satellite

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 8:39am
Univ. of Queensland

Phonesat during testing at near space altitude (approx 30km) late last year. Image: NASAA Univ. of Queensland staff member is sending a satellite into space that is more powerful than the Curiosity Rover that recently landed on Mars.

The satellite, which measures 10cm x 10cm, is controlled by an on-board Android mobile phone five times more powerful than its larger space-faring cousin. It also has a camera four times more powerful.

Michael Kehoe, a UQ staff member with Information Technology Services (ITS) and a final year student of the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (ITEE) recently completed a five-week internship with NASA in California.

He was tasked with designing a satellite that used a mobile phone as its on-board computer.

“This is a proof of concept that will be used for a range of later designs,” says Kehoe.

“The satellite uses an attitude determinate control system (ADCS) written by fellow UQ graduate Jasper Wolfe to stop the satellite from spinning and alter its path in orbit,” he says.

“Because it uses a common mobile phone as its central processor, I've been able to incorporate some really fun ideas into the satellite. I'll be able to take temperature, accelerometer and heading readings using the phone's sensors and photos using the phone's camera.”

Despite being controlled by a mobile phone, the satellite is not able to phone home.

“Unfortunately there's no reception in space, so we'll be using a high-powered radio link to receive data from the satellite,” says Kehoe.

Tracking of the satellite is being set up in America with NASA and in Australia, with the assistance of ITEE. Tracking equipment on top of the Parnell building will monitor the satellite from launch on November 25 to re-entry 12 days later.

The project provides a proof of concept for low cost, rapid design iteration space craft. Total component costs for the satellite are $7800, opposed to Curiosity's $2.5 billion.

“An example of why this is important can be seen in the Curiosity Rover [that] landed in August on Mars,” says Kehoe. “Design work started eight years ago and used cutting-edge technology at the time, but by launch date a common mobile phone had more processing power and better camera. If we can shorten the time it takes to build spacecraft, we can decrease cost and increase the quality of what goes into space.”

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