Volume 41 – January 31, 2012
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Smartphones and Smart SPHERES
In November, a free-flying robot on the International Space Station (ISS) successfully gathered and delivered motion data to its astronaut handler via a new smartphone controller.
The Human Exploration Telerobotics project equipped the compact, free flying satellites -known as Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites, or SPHERES- with a Samsung Nexus S™ handset that features Google's open source Android platform.
Each volleyball-sized SPHERES has its own onboard power, propulsion, computing and navigational software. Adding the smartphone transforms the satellite into a free-flying robot, or "Smart SPHERES" with compact, low-power, low-cost embedded computer and built-in cameras and sensors.
Minor modifications were made to the smartphones, including removing the GSM cellular communications chip to avoid interference with station electronics, and replacing the standard lithium-ion battery with AA alkaline batteries.
In coming months, these compact assistants will conduct interior station surveys and inspections, capturing mobile camera images and video. NASA also plans to simulate external free-flight excursions and in time will test whether the robots can handle other, more challenging tasks.
To see a video of the November test, please visit the link cited on this site:
to read more about NASA's SPHERES experiment, please visit:
Solar Cleaning Power
Although high levels of solar activity are a bane to spacecraft operators, the consequent increase in the density of the Earth's atmosphere is a welcome respite from an otherwise growing orbital debris population. The number of cataloged debris in Earth orbit actually decreased during 2011 as solar activity increased toward an anticipated maximum in 2013. Smaller, uncataloged debris are even more affected by the changing atmosphere, causing even greater of their numbers to fall back to Earth.
In the absence of a new major satellite breakup, the overall orbital debris population should continue to decrease during 2012 and 2013.
To learn more, please visit: