Xbox Kinect to control twin satellites

UK space scientists are sending the Xbox into orbit by building new satellites that will be powered by its Kinect technology. They are designing a test mission that will use the computer games console’s brains to get two spacecraft to link up while whizzing around the Earth.

SSTL engineers busy building satellites. Credit: SSTL
Engineers busy building satellites. Credit: SSTL

Experts say the system could be used for a range of tasks from building space telescopes and maintaining satellites to cleaning up dangerous debris that is littering the skies. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, a world leader in building small space probes, is developing STRaND-2, a pair of satellites that will trial the system.

Kinect is a webcam-based motion-sensing device that Microsoft developed for the Xbox 360 that allows users to operate it without using a physical controller.

STRaND-2 – short for Surrey Training, Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator – will use identical nanosatellites that are each just 12in long. When in space, components from the Xbox Kinect will scan the crafts’ surroundings to help them come together and join up.

Though docking systems are commonly used by larger spacecraft, such as on flights to the International Space Station, the technique has never been used with small satellites, aso known as cubesats.

SSTL, a private company which has already built and launched 36 satellites, is working with Surrey Space Centre, part of the University of Surrey at Guildford, to develop the Xbox-powered mission.

SSTL Project Lead Shaun Kenyon said: “We asked ourselves: Why has no-one used this in space? Once you can launch low cost nanosatellites that dock together, the possibilities are endless – like space building blocks.”

Dr Chris Bridges, of SSC, said yesterday (Mon): “It may seem far-fetched, but our low cost nanosatellites could dock to build large and sophisticated modular structures such as space telescopes.

“Unlike today’s big space missions, these could be reconfigured as mission objectives change, and upgraded in-orbit with the latest available technologies.”

The new mission follows hot on the heels of STRaND-1, a nanosatellite carrying a smartphone payload that will launch into orbit this year. Powered by the Android operating system, the $500 Google Nexus One phone will be the first to operate in the vacuum of space, though others have been carried high into the atmosphere on balloons or carried to the International Space Station.

The STRaND-1 smartphone satellite. Credit: SSTL
The STRaND-1 smartphone satellite. Credit: SSTL

Kenyon, who is also Project Manager for this mission said: “”What we’re hoping to get out of this is some experience of using the cheap but very capable mobile phone technology used in space.

“Mobile phones pack lots of components used in satellites – sensors, cameras, GPS, batteries, accelerometers, compasses, data storage – but at a fraction of the size, weight and cost. What would be cool is to show that all of this capability, squeezed into something as small as a phone, can still work in space.

“We’re not taking it apart; we’re not gutting it; we’re not taking out the printed circuit boards and re-soldering them into our satellite – we’re flying it as is and, in fact, we’re going to have another camera on the satellite so we can take a picture of the phone because we want to operate the screen and have some good images of that as well.”

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

Get free Skymania news updates by email

Sign up for alerts to our latest reports. No spam ever - we promise!


Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *