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Do Smartphones Work In Space?

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.

Written By

This article was written by Ladbrokes’ science and design writer Oliver. He’s looking forward to trying out a Surface tablet (though he hated Windows 8 preview).

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Asher

    July 3, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    I think yes it will work…..

  2. Melissa

    July 3, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    I have never even thought about it) But I guess that there is a possibility that they will work even on the Moon

  3. Lakshmi Balu

    July 4, 2012 at 5:49 am

    Your post was like a morning dose of thinking while sipping coffee! Smartphones in the heavens above! Well, it would not matter as long as there are no human beings settling in a colony in the extra terrestrial space. The scientists making their trips to the space might be in need of smartphones, perhaps having a demand like that the smartphone manufacturers and configuration specialists should think about making the smartphones work if they are no already

  4. Peter Lee

    July 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

    There’re places on the earth that we still can’t use a smartphone properly. Why would we want to worry about using it in space?

    • Lakshmi Balu

      July 4, 2012 at 10:26 am

      Absolutely Peter, that was a thought provoking statement by you! Mobile network operators, are you listening?

  5. sutha

    July 5, 2012 at 5:43 am

    Smartphones will works..Not today but in the future it will work very well..increasingly sophisticated technology in the future and it is possible to use smartphones in space..

  6. James

    July 5, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I guess we should first wait for our mobile networks to be constant here on land and once it does we can surely try for the space too. LOL. Being technologically developed to an extreme extent, our mobile phones face the problem of bad signals here, so according to me it is impossible to get a call successfuly in space.

  7. Craig

    July 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I was on holiday earlier this year in the UK at there was no Internet, No 3G and not even a mobile signal so they still have some work to do on planet earth before they start looking upward 😉

  8. Jayson

    July 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Funny but interesting idea. hehhe!
    I guess if there will no communication facilities outside then it will be just a fantasy. 🙂

  9. Jessie

    July 23, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by ‘work’. Cell-phone reception, data, and gps mean 3 different things to satellites. If you had a working cell tower, and network antenna/reciever, then I’d say it’s possible for at least the first two to work, but I’m not too familiar with the abilities of satellite’s in that regard. Thanks for sharing the info, though. I didn’t know an android phone was being developed for use in space. That’s interesting.

  10. Maybelle

    August 1, 2012 at 8:27 am

    If it that would work that means we can communicate even if we are on a shuttle space. That\’s cool.

  11. Ashie

    August 1, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I don\’t think this will work now, but i am sure this is going to be possible in the near future knowing how fast our technology goes.

  12. Heather Francisco

    October 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    I’ve been playing with a similar idea before, and actually I already thought that smartphone developers had managed to at least make prototypes–and i mean a lot of prototypes–of space-type smartphones. If they do manage to conduct tests of one for space use, I’d be looking forward to seeing it.

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