28 January 2011

Experiment brings new meaning to satellite phone

Do we place too much store on technology? More accurately, do we place too much store on processing power?
Yes, it's certainly a bonus to have as much processing as you can afford when it comes to a desktop pc or a mobile phone. But after that, you get the feeling that designers are coming up with additional functionality just to use up the excess MIPs.

The recent news that an Android powered mobile phone is set to go into space is an example. The modified phone will be part of a small demonstration satellite being developed by Surrey Satellite Technology.
Using modified software, the device will control the satellite and there are also plans to use the camera's phone to take images of the Earth. However, sending the images back using gsm might be a challenge as it will probably be a bit out of range from a basestation.
There's a lot of processing power packed into a mobile phone – probably much more than is needed to control this particular satellite. But there's no reason why such a device – or certainly the internals – shouldn't be used for controlling a satellite; all things considered, it's an economic solution.
But think back to the late 1960s and the Apollo programme, which reached its climax with Apollo 11 touching down on the Moon in July 1969. The Apollo spacecraft got to the Moon and back using a guidance computer featuring one three input NOR gate, while Voyager – currently in the far reaches of the solar system – is controlled by a tape deck. In comparison, controlling a small satellite using a mobile phone looks a bit like overspecification.
But if ET does find the satellite, it will probably be a bit easier to phone home using an Android handset, rather than the legendary Texas Instruments Speak and Spell.

Author
Graham Pitcher

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