Many of us are unable to live without our mobile phones for just one day, so what would happen if we were blasted out into outer space tomorrow? Would they still work, if so how do they work and how far into space do they work? Here’s a little look at what we currently know about the use of smartphones in space.
How do they work?
Mobile phones use satellites and boosting towers to transmit their signal allowing you to talk to your friends and family right next to you or on the other side of the world. Most networks within Europe, Asia and North and South America, use the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) system on which the data is passed over radio waves between 900 and 1800 MHz. Phones need to be within approximately a 10 mile radius of a tower in order to send and receive signals. These towers are pointed at the ground however some of the signal does leak out of the top but this is very weak.
So would they work in space?
Satellites and space ships orbit at approximately 150 miles above the earth surface. Given that a standard phone only works within a 10 miles radius of the tower, the satellite or space ship would need its own tower. This tower would also need to be located on the outside of the of the space ship otherwise the metallic structure would block the signal. You would also need a dish antenna back on earth tracking the satellite to receive the signal.
Has it been done before?
Sending a mobile phone device into orbit has never been done before however one has been sent up on a high altitude balloon. In 2010, Google sent it’s Nexus S up to an altitude of 100,000ft however the GPS only kept track up to 60,000ft but began working again on its descent. The phone continued to work despite being subject to temperatures as low as -50°C and took stills and video photography. They travelled at speeds of 139mph at their fastest and sent details of their latitude back to earth every 2 seconds. Mr Wang from Google Android said ‘By analysing all the collected data, we were able to find some interesting trends. For instance, we determined the speed and altitude of the jet stream: about 130mph at 35,000 ft.’
To infinity and beyond?
Collaboration between the Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstration Centre and the University of Surrey’s Space Centre, will lead to a standard, less that £300 Android phone that is available on the high street being sent up into space to take pictures of the earth. The exact phone that will be used has not yet been revealed however it has been confirmed that it will run Google’s Android as it lends itself very well to modification by software developers. Due to radiation and the wide range of temperatures the phone will experience, it will be encased within the satellite itself. Initially being used as a back-up to the main computer however it will eventually end up running the show. Despite not actually being able to make or receive phone calls, the phone will send pictures and messages back by satellite radio link.
So what about the future?
If this works, it will open up the possibility of using relatively cheap high street products to lower the cost of space crafts. However it is still untested as to whether a mobile phone would work in outer space.