Exclusive: NASA recaps Project Tango-equipped Smart SPHERES, hints at next-generation of free-flying robots


Back in July of last year, crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) received a very special payload of devices from Google’s Advanced Technologies and Projects team. The prototype devices, codenamed Project Tango, were meant for NASA’s microsatellites, the SPHERES, that have been accompanying the astronauts on their voyage around the planet since 2006.

I recently had the incredible luxury of corresponding with Maria Alberty of the Ames Research Facility, the group inside of NASA in charge of overseeing the SPHERES and their experiments, with the goal of revisiting Project Tango’s involvement with the SPHERES and adding to the continuity of Talk Android’s reporting on this milestone.

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Google, NASA test Project Tango equipped SPHERES in Zero G


Although just recently surfacing publicly, Google has been working on their Project Tango smartphones for a while now. Not all of that research and development on the 3D world sensing phone was confined to the Google campus though. Turns out Google has been working with the NASA Ames Research Center to integrate the Project Tango technology onto a robotic platform called SPHERES. The SPHERES platform is intended to be a zero-gravity autonomous unit. Read more

Project Tango may give robots the ability to freely navigate the International Space Station

Project Tango

Currently, NASA uses small satellites called SPHERES to navigate around the International Space Station. These SPHERES roam around a 6 x 6 x 6 foot cube around the ISS, and they exclusively use sound beacons to triangulate their position and move around. This is all possible thanks to a Nexus S powering each of the three SPHERES currently in operation. However, NASA is looking to upgrade those Nexus devices to something a little more powerful. Read more

NASA receives images from Nexus PhoneSat satellites


NASA certainly isn’t new to the task of taking images of the earth from space— however, this would be the first time that these images were taken using “PhoneSats,” a new, super-cheap, super-small type of satellite powered by Android smartphones.

Launched into orbit last month with the goal of showing that it is possible to create space-worthy hardware from consumer-grade devices, Alexander, Graham, and Bell (the names of the three satellite devices) returned blurry images before burning up in the atmosphere as planned on April 27th.   Read more

NASA releases augmented reality app for viewing 3D spacecraft models


Many of you probably know about NASA’s latest venture onto Mars with the little spacecraft that could, Curiosity. Have you ever gotten a bit curious about exactly what that little gadget actually looked like? If you have, you’re in luck, as NASA has released an augmented reality app that will let you view a full 3D rendering of Curiosity or a few other models of spacecraft, with more models said to be added in the future.

The app is as simple as printing out a few markers, then aiming your device camera at those markers to see the 3D model. Best of all, it’s a free application. Hit the download links below to test out the app for yourself.

QR Code generator

Play Store Download Link

HTC Nexus One is officially the first ‘smartpho-naut’ as part of the NASA PhoneSat program


Do you remember the NASA PhoneSat project that we learned about last summer? The purpose of it was to build small nanosatellites using small consumer electronics. Well the Nexus One was the chosen one and it’s in space right now. The Nexus One launched on February 25th, and HTC is calling it the first smartpho-naut.

So what is it doing up there? It’s taking snapshots, and what’s really cool is the 360app is installed on it, which means earth creatures will be able to request snapshots soon. That feature isn’t live yet, so stay tuned. For background information on the PhoneSat project, hit the break for a short video.

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Android smartphones to power NASA’s fleet of miniature satellites

We’ve seen Android serve as the basis for so many innovative ventures, but NASA’s latest project could top them all. A team from NASA’s Ames Research center in California has began construction on a group of miniature satellites composed entirely of Nexus smartphones. The project, properly titled “PhoneSat” is just a small part of the larger Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP)  that aims to build nanosatellites by using  small consumer electronics.

NASA has confirmed that the team has already built two nanosatellite prototype models. PhoneSat 1.0 is the first of the two, and offers limited functionality. The goal for this model is to simply observe and determine if a mini-satellite with a consumer smartphone can survive a short period of time in space. However, one of the most important aspects in determining success is if the satellite can actually send back actual health and picture data from space. In addition to sporting a Nexus One, the body of the satellite will include an array of batteries, a watchdog circuit to monitor the system (and reboot the phone, if necessary) and an external radio beacon.

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Angry Birds Space update hijacks NASA Curiosity Rover

NASA and Rovio have enjoyed a nice working relationship on the Angry Birds Space version of the blockbuster hit game. With the popularity of the Mars Curiosity Rover, Rovio stepped things up and incorporated Curiosity into the game in a big way. Curiousity has a major role in the teaser video Rovio released for this latest update. It is also incorporated into the storyline which has the Piggies hijacking Curiosity to go in search of eggs. The changelog for the update released today indicates 20 new levels on the Red Planet are now available, new challenges like volcanoes and fiery asteroids have been added, and a new astronaut pig may be found. In a nod to NASA, information about real NASA missions can be accessed if you succeed in accessing some hidden levels.

Check out the teaser video after the break and then use the download link to check out Angry Birds Space in the Google Play Store. Read more

Android aboard Atlantis

Android’s adventures in space continue! Last December, Android ventured into near space through a combination of DIY work, some Nexus S phones, and some weather balloons. From that point on, it became clear that Android was destined to boldly go where no Android has gone before; NASA agreed. On its final mission, Atlantis carried aboard two Nexus S phones as part of STS-135’s mission. NASA is utilizing the Nexus S to upgrade a trio of volleyball sized SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites) used to record sensor data and video footage. 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 Nexus phones are also preloaded with an open source sensor logging app developed by Google, which NASA deemed perfect for running diagnostics with the SPHERES.

NASA was interested in Android primarily 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 Nexus S was also a good fit because of its various sensors and low-powered, but high-performing, processor.

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