Two iPhone 4 smartphones loaded with software to help perform experiments in space will be headed toward the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Atlantis on the final flight of the space shuttle program.
The app is called SpaceLab for iOS and was designed by Odyssey Space Research. It contains four step-by-step instruction programs to help STS-135 mission crew members perform experiments in space and aboard the orbital laboratory.
“The revolutionary iPhone 4 offers an extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate serious functions previously reserved for more expensive, purpose-built devices,” Brian Rishikof, Odyssey’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
“The potential for using iPhone 4 to both conduct and support in-space research and operations is enormous. The opportunity to make the experience accessible to anyone via the App Store will attract a new generation of space supporters,” Rishikof said.
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While intended for space use, a version of the app is available now for 99 cents in the Apple App Store that will simulate the experience for users on the ground.
The first program, called Limb Tracker, is a navigation experiment that involves taking photographs of Earth and matching an arc to the horizon. Limb Tracker is designed to yield an estimate of altitude and the “off axis” angle, which is a measurement of the angle of the image with respect to Earth’s center.
Sensor Cal is another program that will use a series of photos of a reference image to help calibrate sensors on board the space station.
State Acq, short for State Acquisition, is a navigation experiment that uses a series of photos of Earth, combined with information from the iPhone’s three-axis gyroscope and accelerometer, to estimate the spacecraft’s latitude and longitude. The position estimation is calculated by manipulating and matching a wireframe overlay of the Earth’s coastlines with the images. Performing multiple sequences, separated by a known amount of time, can permit estimation of the spacecraft’s orbit parameters.
Finally, the LFI program, short for Lifecycle Flight Instrumentation, will characterize the effects of radiation on the device by monitoring certain areas of memory for Single Bit Upsets – an unintended change in value of a memory location caused by exposure to radiation.
Apple’s popular smartphone has been certified for spaceflight, and both iPhone 4s will remain on the ISS for several months while the experiments are performed.
When the experiments are completed, both iPhones will be returned to Earth. The first opportunity for return will be on a Russian Soyuz in fall 2011. Flight data from the experiments are expected to be collected, analyzed, and then shared via this app on the App Store.