It may not be a race that everyone is aware of, but it seems that Google has won the race to put the first smartphone in orbit. According to the BBC, a research team at Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) wants to put a smartphone to see if the electronics currently embedded in high-end phones can survive in harsh conditions. The purpose of the experiment would be to eventually use ideas and innovations from the smartphone world to lower costs of spacecraft design.
The phone will be an Android phone, and SSTL wants to use the open-source nature of Google’s mobile OS to customize a version for their own spacefaring needs. This wouldn’t be the first time Google has sent a phone to extremely high altitudes, but it would be the first time a smartphone makes it into outer space proper.
As part of the experiment, researchers aboard the spacecraft will use the Android device to control a small satellite, and snap pictures of Earth. It will also serve as a backup to the main computer system aboard the aircraft, at least for the first leg of the flight. While the phone will not be able to communicate with other devices on Earth (3G towers don’t have that kind of transmission power yet, and probably never will), the mission will use the craft’s communications systems to send back data from the device.
All joking aside, this is a serious endeavor for SSTL, and it shows what kind of power really sits behind that unassuming glass touchscreen we all take for granted. If a smartphone can run a spacecraft, imagine the kind of applications that developers could create for such an excursion. It makes us wonder why we’re still trying to 3-star every level in Angry Birds when we can be controlling satellites with the accelerometer. A word of caution to SSTL, though: You better bring some spare batteries; satellite control drains battery life like a beast.