British space engineers are to blast an Android smartphone into space.
Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) plan to test the device with a view to using smartphones in the future as a low cost technology to control satellites.
The phone will run on Google's Android operating system. SSTL has not disclosed the model it will use but says it will be a mid-range high street model costing around £300.
The device will be blasted into space later this year where it will be used to control a 30cm-long satellite and take pictures of the Earth.
This will be the first time a mobile phone has gone into space orbit, although Google sent its Nexus S to an altitude of 18km (60,000ft) on balloons last year.
SSTL project manager Shaun Kenyon said: ‘Modern smartphones are pretty amazing. They come now with processors that can go up to 1GHz, and they have loads of flash memory. First of all, we want to see if the phone works up there, and if it does, we want to see if the phone can control a satellite.’
The mission is known as STRaND-1 (Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstration) and involves SSTL and Guildford University’s Surrey Space Centre (SSC).
Kenyon said the phone will not be altered. 'We're not taking it apart; we're not gutting it; we're not taking out the printed circuit boards and re-soldering them into our satellite - we're flying it as is.
‘And, in fact, we're going to have another camera on the satellite so we can take a picture of the phone because we want to operate the screen and have some good images of that as well.’
The team chose an Android phone because of its open source software, which will allow its engineers to modify and adapt the phone's functions.
Doug Liddle, head of science at SSTL said: ‘We're trying to use as much of the capability of the phone as possible. Ideally, the phone can take control and do the thinking.
‘The open source nature of the software is very exciting because you can see how further down the line, once we've got the phone working in orbit, we could get people to develop apps for it.’
Chris Bridges from the Surrey Space Centre said: ‘If a smartphone can be proved to work in space, it opens up lots of new technologies to a multitude of people and companies for space who usually can't afford it. It's a real game-changer for the industry.’
SSTL develops small satellites at low cost by incorporating components originally developed as consumer products, such as laptops.
This year it will launch Earth observation spacecraft for Nigerian, Russian and Canadian customers.
It is also about to start building the spacecraft that will form the initial constellation of Galileo.