back to article Smartmobes in spaaace: NASA deploys Android nanosats

NASA has deployed a couple of CubeSats using off-the-shelf smartphone tech which it hopes will "test out the potential for using a network of small, low-cost satellites to perform complex science missions". The "Nodes" nanosatellites were ejected from the International Space Station on 16 May, along with a further three …

  1. Bob H

    I always wonder why Android needs to go in to devices like this? What value does it add compared to Debian or something similar?

    The mantra of "Android all the things" seems wrong to me.

    1. MattPi

      "I always wonder why Android needs to go in to devices like this? What value does it add compared to Debian or something similar?

      The mantra of "Android all the things" seems wrong to me."

      In this case, it sounds like the hardware is derived from a smartphone so it makes a lot of sense. Flipping the question, what benefit does Debian provide to offset the many hours it would take to get it running on hardware that may not have drivers, etc.? Odds are the boards came with Android and that's an acceptable option so they went with it.

    2. Cem Ayin

      They use what's already there, I suppose

      "I always wonder why Android needs to go in to devices like this?"

      It says "off-the-shelf smartphone tech", so most likely they are using ARM-SOCs originally designed for smartphones. And Android is what already runs on these devices, any flavour of GNU/Linux would probably have to be ported first (ARM-SOCs don't adhere to the same hardware interface standards that commodity x86-systems do).

  2. Scott Broukell

    Oh, I see, the little tape measures sticking out of the sides are for measuring gravitational waves.

    <my space suit is the one with . . . >

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can you hear me now? Good ...

    Can you hear me now? Good ...

  4. Anonymous Blowhard


    Don't you mean pre-loaded molecular-bond energy-storage system?

    1. Lester Haines (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Re: Spring?

      Well yes, if you insist on using the NASA technical name.

    2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Spring?

      depends upon your budget. A good quality "spring" should cost around $10. On the other hand, a similarly sized "pre-loaded molecular-bond energy-storage system" is typically $2000-$3000 because, you know, government contract reasons.

    3. Paul Mitchell
      IT Angle

      Re: Spring?

      It looks like metal to me, so that's more of a "valence band energy storage system" than "molecular -bond"


      1. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: Spring?

        Note the impressive and somewhat ACME-inspired ejection spring...

        There even looks to be a flag furled on top that reads "SPROING!" ready to deploy when the cubesats are launched.

  5. Dabooka Silver badge

    I know very little about space...

    as will become apparent with this question, but how do ejecting these things into space not pose a risk of collision?

    So if a small particle cracked the outer window recently on the ISS, I guess these are ejected to not risk hitting the ISS or other sats which presumably orbit in a different altitude 'belt'? If this is the case, how do they not enter a decaying orbit and burn up, or is that exactly what's planned? Or is the risk just shrugged off as space is on the large side of big?

    Genuine questions.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: I know very little about space...

      They are only in low obit, so they will deorbit of their own accord reasonably quickly. They are nudged away from the ISS, and the difference in drag between the two bodies, along with their newly changed orbital path, will mean they stay apart.

      The relatively low altitude will ensure that they fall back to produce a small fireball...

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: I know very little about space...

        Thanks for the quick reply, I hoped it would be something that simple!

        I just wonder how they'll go about deploying entire cube sat arrays in the future without wiping other things out. Seems like a challenge if cube-sat swarms do become a thing

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: I know very little about space...

          "CubeSats launched inside pressurized cargo vessels and released outside the International Space Station are of little concern to space debris experts. The space station orbits at an altitude of about 260 miles, or 420 kilometers, where aerodynamic drag from the outer wisps of Earth’s atmosphere often brings CubeSats down within months.

          For CubeSats sent to higher altitudes, the orbital lifetime is much longer, and most are not equipped with rocket thrusters to move out of the way of other satellites or lower their orbits at end-of-life.

          The altitude cutoff for a 25-year lifetime is between 600 and 700 kilometers (373 to 435 miles), according to NASA’s orbital debris report."

          Short version:

          Ones chucked out of the ISS window will last months, but get 3 times higher and it could be 25 years before they burn up.

          Given that, and the predicted rate of deployment they could be numerous, but they are still not a significant hazard due to our ability to track them

  6. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    Smart phone bits

    I suppose with regards to using Android and smart mobe bits it's a case of already having an OS with a comms stack capable of adding in the appropriate hardware easily to allow the networking.

    That being said couldn't you do the same with a RasberryPi ?

    On second thoughts maybe not, since the Pi2's tendency to reset itself when exposed to very bright lights. (though I'm happy to be wrong with newer versions).

    Finally, I really, really, really hope that the spring has a small flag in red with the words 'bang' written upon it..

  7. Chemical Bob

    operating swarms of small spacecraft

    Will they call this new networking technology the Mosquito Net?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: operating swarms of small spacecraft

      I was thinking the "Midge Net". They're small, can be launched in swarms, and make a mess of the windshield (windscreen) when you drive through a swarm of them.

  8. eric.verhulst(Altreonic)

    Radiation and SEU hardened?

    How does a smartphone survive space radiation and SEUs? The probalistic life time of these nanosats could be very, very low. In addition, they made the problem worse by using memory eating software. One alpha particle and blue screen is the result.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Radiation and SEU hardened?

      "How does a smartphone survive space radiation and SEUs? "

      ISS-altitudes are well within the Van-Allen belts and radiation levels are generally pretty low (only slightly higher than experienced in commercial air travel)

      This is one reason why ISS experience is good for measuring microgravity endurance but no good for realistic evaluation of the radiation environment that would be experienced on a Mars trip.

      Earth's magnetosphere provides a _lot_ of protection against the worst that's out there.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Is this for real??

    Looking at the headline photo, my first thought was "THE BORG!!!"

    (Not had my morning litre of coffee yet)

  10. Francis Boyle

    I don't think

    NASA have quite got the whole disco ball thing yet.

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