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Monday, June 13, 2011

Two iPhones to fly on last space shuttle mission


First iPhone in space will test guidance software

The final shuttle mission will be a first for the iPhone. When Atlantis flies to the International Space Station this summer it will carry two iPhones to test an app, SpaceLab for iOS from Odyssey Space Research. The Houston company makes spacecraft guidance software. When the iPhone 4 came out, the company's programmers realized it could be used for a space-based experiment to test a vehicle's positioning and orientation with the smartphone's new internal gyroscope, camera, and other sensors.

Odyssey CEO Brian Rishikof is fairly certain that these will be the first iPhones in space.

Astronauts will use the two iPhones in four experiments. The "limb tracker" makes an altitude estimate using a picture of the curved edge of the Earth. A sensor calibration test uses the iPhone's camera and other sensors to adjust the gyroscope and accelerometers. A spatial recognition test will attempt to match pictures of the earth with a database of wireframe images of national borders. Finally, the iPhone will be used to test for the effects of radiation on computers by checking for changes to single bits in the phones' memory.

The company emphasized that all of their experiments were being conducted and paid for as private research. The iPhones will not be used for navigation or any other NASA mission.

The public version of the app sells for $1. Rishikof noted that most iPhone users do not have access to space travel, so some of the features will be simulated.

The phones and the shuttle Atlantis are scheduled for launch on STS-135, tentatively set for July 8. This will be the last flight into space for Atlantis and the last mission for the space shuttle program. [via Venture Beat]