Building satellites with cell phone technologies

Satellites and space telescopes made from spare cell phone parts? The wonders of technology.

According to a recent Popular Mechanics article, Louisville, Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corporation is building a "new breed of spacecraft." So, what makes them so special? Rather than constructing them with custom-made, extremely expensive components, they are being assembled with more affordable and easier-to-procure parts commonly used in consumer electronic products.

As the article points out, drastically reducing the manufacturing cost will hold significant appeal for communications companies that are used to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on satellites, only to lose them in risky launches that cannot guarantee success. It also means that manufacturers can build more satellites at a faster pace than ever before.

Planetary Resources is a company building the first commercial space telescopes. Chris Lewicki, its chief engineer, told the news source about the benefits of using components that are already part of the latest and greatest mobile devices.

"It just so happens that everything that the computer-makers are innovating for a smaller cell phone that does more in a smaller spot, and the batteries last longer – those are exactly the same problems that you always have in space . . . It’s wonderful to be on the back side of all that innovation in the consumer world and be able to pick the best pieces and send them off to space."

By using commercially available sensors and thermal management technologies, the impact of satellites on a myriad of industries could be staggering. Billions of dollars can be saved while at the same time opening up a whole new source of revenue for companies developing the latest manufacturing techniques and methods of joining dissimilar metals.

It sounds far-fetched to think that the technology that makes your iOS, Android and Windows devices so popular could soon find a new home on satellites in space. But science fact always starts out as science fiction. It just takes someone with the drive and innovative spirit to make the necessary leap.

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