Google’s Android platform is shooting for the moon.
NASA sent two Android-powered Nexus S smartphones into space with the last manned space shuttle, Atlantis, on the STS-135 mission. The duo of smartphones were used to test and investigate how humans and robots can coexist in space more efficiently.
In the mission, the phones were used to control SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites), small robotic satellites that were originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The SPHERES are used to do things like record video and capture sensor data, errands that once required astronauts. The phones are used to help control the SPHERES, which have their own power, computing, propulsion and navigation systems. The robotic devices have built-in expansion ports that allow a variety of additional sensors and devices, like cameras, to be attached.
Another group of researchers from Great Britain hope to send a smartphone powered satellite into lower Earth-orbit before the year’s end. This experiment differs from NASA, however, in that it’s primarily testing how well the guts of the smartphone can stand in the extreme conditions of space. And last year, a pair of Nexus Ones were sent 30,000 feet into the air as the payload of a small rocket. One was destroyed when its parachute failed, but the other safely glided to Earth, capturing two and a half hours of video footage.
In the future, the phones will be used to navigate and control the SPHERES using the IOIO board and the Android Open Accessory Development Kit.
Why Android over iOS, or another smartform platform? NASA thought an Android device would be a good fit since it’s open source. Google’s engineers even wrote a sensor logging app that NASA ended up using on the mission (and it can be downloaded from the Android Market, if you’re interested).
Check out the video below to see the Nexus S and the SPHERES in action.