NASA’s Smart SPHERES recently graduated from in house computers to Android devices, specifically the Nexus S. Though it’s cool that space faring orbs have Android devices built into them, what’s the reason for using our beloved platform? What makes Android, and specifically the Nexus devices, so attractive? Modding, of course!
Using a smart phone as the brains of one of these spheres saved plenty of time for the team responsible for them, and it provided a big boost in processing power, but it didn’t come without its problems. First of all, all devices have to have a hardware radio switch, and the Nexus S (or any Android device) doesn’t. So the first thing they had to do when they got the devices was of course disable the radios. This meant that they had to tear out the TXRX amplifier. After that, the device was shown not to interfere, and continued to work even with a chip missing.
The next issue was that lithium ion batteries are not approved for the International Space Station. However, Alkaline batteries were (because they deteriorated better), so they fashioned a big battery pack with six AA batteries inside. It’s quite clever. They also covered the glass with tape to prevent shards floating around if it shattered. In space, shattered glass is a serious risk to breathing, not just stepping on.
Of course, the best part about it was the software. With the ISS computers running Windows XP, they modded the Nexus S to be in mass storage mode before a USB cable is plugged in. This means they can use them with the computers without drivers. They also used a Play Store app to test all the sensors, and all but the accelerometer work really well for them.
To read the full article with more detail, hit the source link! It’s great to see Android being used for a variety of things, including collecting data in space. Hopefully we’ll see the Nexus 4 powered models soon!