In an effort to explore how robots can help humans experiment and live in space more efficiently, NASA sent two Android-powered Nexus S phones on the last manned space shuttle Atlantis as part of the STS-135 mission.
The goal is to use Nexus S on the International Space Station to explore how this coexistence can work.
The Official Google blog about the new venture stated that NASA is using Nexus S phones to upgrade a trio of volleyball-sized Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES), small robotics satellites originally developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The phones help the robotic satellites to perform tasks the astronauts used to do. These tasks include recording sensor data and capturing video footage, the blog stated.
There are hopes that in the future, the phones will control and maneuver the SPHERES using the IOIO board and possibly the Android Open Accessory Development Kit (ADK).
The Android Open Accessory APIs allow USB accessories to connect to Android devices running Android 3.1 or Android 2.3.4 without special licensing or fees, according to the device's Web site. The new accessory mode doesn't require the Android device to support USB Host mode.
The Official Google blog stated that a couple of its engineers built an open source sensor logging app that NASA decided to use for running diagnostics with the SPHERES.
NASA showed interested in Android because it's an open source platform, which makes it easy to customize the software on the phone to meet the specifications required to fly in space and work with the SPHERES, the blog stated.
Nexus S was also a good fit because of its various sensors and low-powered, but high-performing, processor, it also noted.
Wired.com also reported back in January, that researchers at the University of Surrey and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) in England are developing an Android-powered satellite to be launched into lower-earth orbit before year's end.
But this experiment, which is dubbed Strand-1 (Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator), will differ from NASA's.
It is an 11.8-inch satellite that will take pictures of Earth and will include in its control electronics the guts of a commercial smartphone running Android. Researchers want to show off the features and capabilities of a satellite while primarily using relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf components, the Wired.com articles stated.
The economic implications of this are really exciting, mission concepts engineer Shaun Kenyon told Wired.com. If these phones stand up to the extreme environments we see in space, it's amazing to think we could eventually leverage low-cost mobile technology to use in satellite production.
Learn more about Androids in space in the video below.