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Digi launches IoT in space

Steve Rogerson
March 9, 2017
 
This week, Digi’s XBee 802.15.4 modules were used by Nasa as part of a test programme for wireless communications within satellites and payloads from the International Space Station.
 
The ISS released a TechEdSat 5 (Technical and Educational Satellite 5), a cuboid-shaped device, approximately the size of a fire extinguisher. After a 30-minute time-period, Digi XBee modules, taking the place of wired connections, began to operate as the wireless data-crossroads between key components of the satellite.



The picture from Nasa taken this week from the International Space Station shows the launch.
 
At ten second intervals, the Digi XBees transmits important orbital data within the satellite including the satellite's translational acceleration and angular rate, magnetic field, atmospheric pressure, temperature, and strain. These data will be used in the design of future satellites.
 
Typically, data communications are transmitted through wired connections, but as part of a wireless-in-space effort, Nasa is working to augment traditional wiring with wireless networking to lessen weight, increase payload capacity and create new communications models. For example, through wireless communications, future satellites could communicate directly with each other in a mesh network.
 
"This is another example of the limitless possibilities of wireless communications," said Rob Faludi, chief innovation officer at Digi. "Nasa is continually expanding the boundaries of creating and applying innovative technologies and we're thrilled to be part of these efforts."
 
In addition to testing wireless communications within the satellite while in orbit, the mission will include the testing of a passive de-orbit system for the ISS to bring samples back to earth in an on-demand model.
 
Typical de-orbit delivery methods require the use of rocket technology to decelerate delivery payloads, but, due to safety concerns, storage of rockets on the ISS is not possible. Nasa's Ames Research Center in California has been experimenting with drag technology to deliver payloads in a parachute-like manner back to earth through the use of an exo-brake, a specially-designed braking device that operates similar to a parachute at extremely high speeds and low air pressures, designed to descend to earth over a period of weeks.
 
Over the course of its descent, Digi XBee will be transmitting data on the performance and testing of the modulating exo-brake as it changes its surface area to allow the satellite to enter the atmosphere more precisely.
 
As a first test, the initial deployment will call for the satellite to be burned up in the atmosphere, but later missions are planned with wingsail style parachutes that will continue the effort to bring perishable experiment samples quickly back from the ISS.
 
"Nasa is looking at wireless sensor technology as another tool to help understand vehicle dynamics, heat-shield or ablator performance, and fluid mechanics," said Marcus Murbach, principal investigator at Ames. "Of particular interest is the application of wireless sensor technology to a controllable exo-brake, to which data can be compared to entry systems models of drag-based de-orbit."