Mobile phones can turn up in most unlikely places –as everyone who's mislaid one will know – but researchers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) have taken things to an extreme.
The boffins have developed 'STRaND-1', a satellite based around that will be launched into orbit around the Earth later this year. STRaND-1 (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) has been developed to demonstrate that working satellites could be constructed through the use of off-the-shelf components.
However, because smartphones have not been developed to be used as satellites, there needs to be some extensive testing. A powerful computers housed at the Surrey Space Centre, which is based at the university, will test the phone's workings once it's in space. The computer will check which components of the phone are operating normally and when components malfunction in orbit for recovery
STRaND-1's lead researcher Dr Chris Bridges said, "Smartphones pack lots of components – such as sensors, video cameras, GPS systems and Wi-Fi radios – that are technologically advanced but a fraction of the size, weight and cost of components used in existing satellite systems. And because many smartphones also run on free operating systems that lend themselves to online software developers, the creators of applications ('apps') for smartphones could feasibly develop apps for satellites."
The collaboration between SCC and SSTL means that the company benefits from the University of Surrey's space engineering research, while researchers and students get the chance to design, build and fly real space hardware alongside engineers from a world-leading small satellite provider.
And this collaboration could have far-reaching implications for the industry. "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," said Dr Bridges.