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February 28, 2013 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Surrey Satellite Technology's STRaND 1 demonstrates a new generation of satellites built around smartphones. Tossed into orbit on an Indian PSLV, the toaster-sized microsatellite is based on an Android-powered Nexus One that will control the satellite, run apps, take snapshots, and phone home. While the U.K. leads the smartphone space race, NASA is testing its own PhoneSat series of nanosatellite prototypes. The University of Surrey explains how it works in this video.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (10 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. This is an interesting development in the history of integrated circuit fabrication and electronics assembly in ways most readers probably won't appreciate.

I work in high-rel electronics. Specifically, I am a program manager for a company that makes MWD / LWD (Measurement-While-Drilling / Logging-While-Drilling) equipment. This is instrumentation, control and telemetry systems meant to be screwed into a drill string, just above the bit, when drilling for oil and gas. These systems have to survive hundreds to thousands of hours of spinning and bashing against rock at temperatures as high as 200 C / 400 F ... similar to the temperature you might bake a cake at.

Historically, the MWD / LWD industry has either purchased very specialized and expensive components for this application or taken unqualified, lower temperature parts and qualified them for higher temperatures, eg. 125, 150 or 175 C. We'd buy MIL-SPEC-883 qualified parts (mostly discontinued now), rated for 125 C, when we could and qualify them, or we'd buy industrial grade (85 C) or even commercial grade (70 C) parts and qualify them.

Increased demand for high-temperature-rated electronic components and subsystems for automotive, heavy industrial, aerospace and downhole applications has more recently led to a much broader offering of products which are or can be qualified for use up to 200 C.

In a totally unrelated development, Silicon-on-Insulator (SoI), Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Silicon-on-Sapphire (SoS) processes originally developed for high-speed, low-leakage applications, mainly cell towers and cell phones, are incidentally very well-suited for high-temperature applications; the higher-temperature capability came basically as a byproduct of this change, opening new markets to these vendors.

There have been similar, though arguably less dramatic developments in printed circuit board materials, solders, pottings, etc. that have followed developments in IC chips.

It could be said based on this article that the IC chip and printed circuit assembly reliability modeling, qualification and production screening techniques originally developed by the (mostly US) military, and to some extent Ma Bell, drove many of these improvements, trickled-down to consumer electronics and are now in a sense trickling back UP to a new breed of low-budget aerospace applications.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:29 PM on February 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


A few months back, I was reading through a datasheet of some now-forgotten IC and was surprised to find that the manufacturer explicitly forbade using the chip in space applications. Diving into this, I found that it was likely due to US export on military and space equipment.

Can any of the aerospace folks here comment on how likely it is that this project violates ITAR or some other export restrictions, and the likely consequences?
posted by b1tr0t at 7:37 PM on February 28, 2013



citizenspace.org:
In addition to the Nexus One, the PhoneSat contains an Arduino board. Low-cost satellites generally avoid using radiation-hardened (“rad hard”) electronics, due to the expensive. A single rad-hard processor can cost $400,000. Instead, they have watchdog systems (in this case, the open-source Arduino board) to reboot the main processor if it crashes due to a radiation event.

Welcome to the 2013 Interplanetary Small Satellite Conference
20-21 June 2013
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, California

posted by Golden Eternity at 7:55 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can any of the aerospace folks here comment on how likely it is that this project violates ITAR or some other export restrictions, and the likely consequences?
I'm pretty sure export restrictions don't apply if you're not actually exporting from the US. The phone was presumably made in China, by a Taiwanese company (HTC). The main CPU is a qualcomm snapdragon, which (according to Google) was fabricated in Taiwan at one point. Anyway, it seems pretty unlikely that there is any problem. I doubt that the click-through agreement on the phone bans people from launching their phones into space.
posted by delmoi at 8:15 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay. This is the first time I have been gobsmacked by a title on the front page.
The subject is so not what I thought it was.
posted by Mezentian at 8:59 PM on February 28, 2013


In a totally unrelated development, Silicon-on-Insulator (SoI), Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Silicon-on-Sapphire (SoS) processes originally developed for high-speed, low-leakage applications, mainly cell towers and cell phones, are incidentally very well-suited for high-temperature applications;

They are also, incidentally, well-suited for a radiation environment, which you would need for an application like this (although if it gets hit by a solar flare all bets are off). They mention radiation shielding, but it only helps a little at these sizes. I hope the cell phone isn't in control of anything critical and has some way of restarting itself if the processor crashes.
posted by eye of newt at 10:18 PM on February 28, 2013


They have an Arduino which monitors the phone and reboots it if it needs too - presumably made with more radiation resistant chips.
posted by delmoi at 10:41 PM on February 28, 2013


eye of newt: Yes, good point about the rad tolerance. I meant to mention that!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:57 AM on March 1, 2013


I don't understand why you would want to do this... viral marketing in space? Who has the resources to debug realtime linux on ARM in space?
NASA PhoneSat engineers also are changing the way missions are designed by rapidly prototyping and incorporating existing commercial technologies and hardware. This approach allows engineers to see what capabilities commercial technologies can provide, rather than trying to custom-design technology solutions to meet set requirements. Engineers can rapidly upgrade the entire satellite's capabilities and add new features for each future generation of PhoneSats.
It seems like there are a host of reasons why you don't want to take cues from the consumer electronics industry for objects permanently in orbit... it seems crazy to me to try to save 10K or 20K on a satellite which will cost millions of dollars to launch and is likely to be useless if there is even a software bug, much less some hard to fault-analyze hardware failure.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:46 AM on March 1, 2013


Well, if you can make your satellites the size of a toaster, they don't cost millions each to launch. If they're that small and light you can fit a couple of dozen on a single mission. If one launch can put up 25 satellites, it only costs $10-20K per unit. Depending on the uses you've got in mind, that might make a lifespan of only a couple of years still worthwhile.
posted by echo target at 12:36 PM on March 1, 2013


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