Smartphone powers Star Wars-inspired NASA robot

Smartphone Spheres

Miniature satellites resembling the flying robot that helped Luke Skywalker with his light saber training are now serving as mission control’s eyes and ears aboard the International Space Station.

It’s hard not to get freakishly excited when science fiction becomes scientific fact — especially when the origins of that science are rooted in Star Wars.

Think back, young Jedis, to the scene where a fresh-off-Tatooine Luke Skywalker is honing his light saber skills under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi. A round, floating robot called a remote helps Luke practice his Force-finding mojo. Now, NASA is running experiments with miniature satellites, or nanosatellites, that were inspired by that fictional robot.

Roughly the size of a soccer ball, these robots that fly freely in space are called Spheres (which is short for Synchronized Position Hold Engage Reorient Experimental Satellites). Star Wars connection aside, there’s another remarkable detail about Spheres: they’re powered by smartphones, specifically a Google Nexus S.

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