The University of Surrey’s Surrey Space Centre (SSC) and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) are set to launch the world’s first smartphone-based satellite. Built around a Google Nexus One smartphone running on the Android operating system, the STRaND-1 (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator) satellite will also be the U.K.’s first CubeSat to go into space.

Weighing only 4.3 kilograms (9.5 lb) and standing 30 centimeters (11.8 in) tall, its one of a special class of satellites known as nanosatellites (nanosats), which are satellites with a wet mass between 1 and 10 kg (2.2 and 22 lb). Relying on a off-the-shelf consumer gear helped the team complete building and testing of the STRaND-1 in just three months. The logic is that smartphones already contain much of what a satellite needs, such as cameras, radio links, accelerometers and high performance computer processors. According to SSTL, the only things it lacks are solar panels and propulsion.

In addition to the smartphone, the STRaND-1 also packs a new high-speed Linux-based CubeSat computer developed by SSC. Its job is to operate the satellite during the first phase of the mission when a series of experimental “apps” will be put through their paces. Then, in phase two, the smartphone will take over as mission control back at the University of Surrey tests how the smartphone components stand up to the space environment.

Dr Chris Bridges, SSC’s lead engineer on the project, said: “A smartphone on a satellite like this has never been launched before but our tests have been pretty thorough, subjecting the phone to oven and freezer temperatures, to a vacuum and blasting it with radiation. It has a good chance of working as it should, but you can never make true design evolutions or foster innovation without taking a few risks: STRaND is cool because it allows us to do just that.”

The smartphone is just one of several firsts for STRaND-1. It will also carry a device called "WARP DRiVE" (Water Alcohol Resistojet Propulsion Deorbit Re-entry Velocity Experiment), which uses a water/alcohol mixture for propulsion, along with a set of Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPTs) that use an electric arc to vaporize a solid propellant. Finally, the STRaND-1 will include the first 3D-printed part in space.

To be put into a 785 km (488 mile) sun-synchronous orbit, the STRaND-1 is scheduled to launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India on February 25 on the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

Using components harvested from consumer electronic devices runs in the STRaND family, with the STRaND-2 to include Kinect motion-control sensors to let the nanosats seek each other out and dock to form a new, larger satellite.

An animation of the STRaND-1 in orbit can be seen below.

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