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How smartphones helped NASA to build tiny satelites you can hold in your hand

Martyn Williams | March 17, 2016
New chips and more powerful software aren't just making better phones, they're improving our ability to explore space.

While AeroCube 6 uses two satellites, some projects plan greater numbers working in unison. The Nodes mission is integral to those efforts, helping to figure out the most efficient way for small groups of cubesats to talk to each other.

Just because the satellites are small and low-cost doesn't mean the are any less ready for space. In a lab at the Ames Research Center, cubesats are put through their paces to ensure they're ready for the rigors of launch, deployment and a life in space.

"We like to say we 'shake and bake and sometimes break,'" said Lynn Hofland, who runs the lab.

It has machines for testing vibration, shock, G-force, extreme cold and the ability to survive in a vacuum.

NASA has a busy schedule of future cubesat missions, and other projects are planned and in operation by companies, universities and other organizations.

As the innovations in electronics keep bringing new capabilities to handheld computers, Hofland's shake-and-bake lab will be busy for some time yet.

 

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