Android phone blasts into space aboard satellite

India's space program sends a Nexus One into orbit.

Nexus One

Credit: Surrey Satellite Technology Limited

A 2010-vintage HTC Nexus One is the brains of a satellite launched into orbit Monday by the Indian Space Research Organization, dubbed STRaND-1.

STRaND-1, which weighs around 8 pounds, is the brainchild of UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, which designed the satellite both as a way to gauge how consumer-grade electronics will perform in space and to demonstrate pulsed-plasma thruster use on similar "nanosatellites." The name stands for Surrey Training, Research, and Nanosatellite Demonstrator.

According to SSTL, the Android phone aboard STRaND-1 will run apps that will collect scientific data, take pictures of Earth using its on-board 5MP camera, and even control some satellite functions. Temperature monitoring will prompt the device to run load-intensive programs, heating the CPU and avoiding a frozen battery.

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Along with its serious purposes, STRaND-1 will run an app called "Scream in Space," which will put the long-held saying "in space, no one can hear you scream" to the test by playing user-submitted videos and listening for any emitted sound.

SSTL didn't provide an exact unit cost, but said STRaND-1 is only a little more expensive than a "high-end family car."

The Nexus One won't take over for a couple of weeks, according to SSTL, as scientists on the ground verify that everything else aboard the satellite is working. Until the switchover, STRaND-1 is being controlled by the satellite's altitude control system and a Linux-based CubeSat computer.

STRaND-1 is one of six commercial payloads launched into orbit by the ISRO's PSLV-C20 mission, along with its primary cargo, the joint French-Indian oceanographic research satellite SARAL. There is, as yet, no word of a competing iPhone-powered satellite project, although both the iPhone and other Android-powered devices have already been carried into space by intrepid astronauts.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold, particularly if you want to commiserate over all the HAL-9000 jokes he had to cut out of this.

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