The countdown to send Strand-1, the smartphone-powered satellite, into space has begun. SSTL, aka Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, the firm behind the project (you can find them at the Surrey Space Centre in Guildford, which may cause our British readers to crack an enigmatic smile) have, after many a sleepless night, now packed the Nexus One, complete with all the other components that make it a nanosatellite, into its travelling case and slapped a "Destination India" sticker on its side, the subcontinent being the place where Strand-1 disembarks on its final destination.
Some cute detail has emerged on the BBC, which has interviewed the SSC's lead engineer, Chris Bridges. The Android-powered phone will fly with its little nose pressed up against a side panel of the satellite to let it take pictures of the Earth and the moon. On board the Nexus One will be a number of scientific apps, including the Alien-inspired Scream In Space, which will allow members of the public to upload videos of themselves screaming; this will then be played on the phone while it's in orbit. Thrust on the satellite is provided by a mixture of water and alcohol, known as Warp Drive. That's Water Alcohol Resisto-jet Propulsion De-orbit Re-entry Velocity Experiment for long. (Actually, I thoroughly recommend following them on Twitter. Their feed is full of boffins in hairnets, Star Wars/Trek characters on skis, and funny little asides. Oh, and cake.) Although a Linux-powered cubesat computer will do the initial heavy lifting, the Nexus One will take over once the team sees fit.
Is this a crazy idea? Well, the firm behind the idea is British, but so is Monty Python—and so let's call it eccentric instead. But there is a very serious point behind all the honorable Limey amateur-this-has-all-gotten-a-bit-too-silly patter. It's all part of a very grown-up and logical experiment to see if accessible technology can be used in space exploration in order to cut costs—something NASA, sadly, knows all too much about. And just for your pleasure, the SSTL is already working on Strand-2. It's using the motion-sensing tech found in Microsoft's Xbox, Kinect. Kin'ell.
[Image via Surrey Nanosats' Twitter feed]