Its not everyday you can say your smartphone is stuff of space-bound satellites. With NASA retrofitting some of their satellites with Android phones, then, you can imagine how flexible our little devices can be. But what exactly made NASA’s Ames Research Center decide to send smartphones into space, and what made them decide to go for a Samsung Nexus S in their project?
NASA’s The Human Exploration and Telerobotics (HET) team uses satellites called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites or “SPHERES,” which are used inside the International Space Station, and are designed for investigative applications in zero-gravity. These include, among others, telerobotic cameras, measuring radiation levels and testing high-latency controls.
NASA decided to use smartphones in their SPHERES project because of the ready availability of hardware, extensibility of the Android platform and to upgrade the decades-old processors of their satellites.
- The battery had to be converted from Lithium-based to Nickel-based ones. Long story short: lithium can ignite and burst into flames, which is not a very ideal thing to happen in space.
- The phone had to be set to permanent “airplane” mode, which required removal of the TXRX amplifier chip from within.
- The glass touchscreen had to be reinforced, since broken glass can be inhaled in space. Ouch!