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Android Hardware Hacking NASA Open Source Space Build Linux

Can Android Revolutionize Spacecraft Design? 110

Posted by timothy
from the but-wait-for-the-monthly-bill dept.
An anonymous reader writes "NASA's Ames Research Center is working on a new project designed to drastically cut the cost of launching and operating small satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The project, known as PhoneSat, will see the Android powered Nexus One and Nexus S phones command their very own small scale spacecraft this year in a first of its kind research mission."
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Can Android Revolutionize Spacecraft Design?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 25, 2012 @04:38PM (#41124655)

    Perhaps try Dr Chris Bridges at Surrey Space Centre in the UK?
    http://www.sstl.co.uk/divisions/earth-observation-science/science-missions/strand-nanosatellite

  • by ajalics (9152) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @04:56PM (#41124791)

    All I can say is these devices are not built to be radiation tolerant to say nothing of radiation hardened. Keep in mind the laptops (not used for safety critical things) on the ISS have to rebooted daily because of Single Event Upset (SEU)s that lock them up.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike (68054) * on Saturday August 25, 2012 @05:13PM (#41124887)

    Please, do correct me if I'm wrong; but I was under the impression that the overwhelming majority of the cost of doing space work was in launching the things, ...In the same vein, is there an advantage to using an Android environment(whose virtues lie primarily in UI and 3rd party applications) rather than a standard embedded linux or other OS?

    Android IS Linux. Its just that it has already been trimmed down to the bones and runs on very powerful, but low energy consuming hardware. So it saves them the need of making a linux version to do the same thing.

    As for your other points, it seems from TFA that they will not actually be using the phones as we know them, but rather stripped down models sans screen, case, battery, etc. Probably wrapped in something to compensate for lack of radiation hardened componentry. But then again, the types of short duration, low orbit, small payload missions they are planning this for can probably risk the radiation for the duration.

    In the case of our intrepid Nexus phones, the issue is being tactfully ignored. As these are test missions, NASA isn’t concerned about the long-term viability of these craft, and only expects them to last a few weeks or months. Due to their low orbits and lack of thrusters to increase their altitude during the mission, the Nexus-powered satellites will be falling back down to Earth within a year anyway. Even if they were built to better withstand the extremes of space, they would still just burn up in the atmosphere before too long.

    I doubt they launch these things singly, they probably piggyback on other launches, but being the size of a coffee cup, they might be able to use cheap sounding rockets [nasa.gov]. There are a number of different models [nasa.gov] of these relatively cheap rockets that can launch low earth orbit small payloads.

  • by icebike (68054) * on Saturday August 25, 2012 @05:59PM (#41125187)

    TFA goes a long way toward answering your concerns.

    They don't care. These are coffee cup sized, low cost, low orbit, short duration missions that will re-enter and burn up within a year.

    They don't care about radiation damage risk, they are well below the radiation belts where the biggest risk is.

  • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by evilviper (135110) on Saturday August 25, 2012 @06:08PM (#41125243) Journal

    Please, do correct me if I'm wrong; but I was under the impression that the overwhelming majority of the cost of doing space work was in launching the things

    Nope. A quick search shows that cubesats cost $40k to launch, and developing a cubesat reportedly runs from $25-50k, easily a significant fraction of launch price.

        http://www.space.com/308-cubesats-tiny-spacecraft-huge-payoffs.html [space.com]

    Is the cost of computing anywhere near that significant [...] rather than a slightly more expensive, but by no means all that esoteric, ARM SoC board designed for embedded applications?

    You really should read TFA. Cell phones are perfect because they include a compass, gyro, camera, etc. A LOT more than just an ARM SoC. Hell, they can probably sell the screens on eBay and make back a significant portion of their purchase price.

    Thought TFA didn't say so, the power management in Android phones is probably better than what you'll get anywhere else... Standby and talk time are major advertised features, so manufacturers make sure it's working as well as possible. And with a satellite, electrical limits are a major issue.

    In the same vein, is there an advantage to using an Android environment(whose virtues lie primarily in UI and 3rd party applications) rather than a standard embedded linux or other OS?

    Android is a standard embedded Linux OS... It's basically just got a custom UI instead of X11. From the command-line, you wouldn't know the difference. Many people install Debian on their Android phones...

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