Could your smartphone actually survive in space?

Could your smartphone actually survive in space?

A Nexus One at the heart, but could it survive on its own?

It's an age old question, one which has troubled scholars almost as much as the issue of whether cats can count. But it's a question which we finally aim to answer: can a smartphone survive a trip into orbit?

Firstly, let's get the obvious out of the way: no, a smartphone can't make or receive calls in space, as it's reliant on ground based antennas.

So you can't use it as a phone, but what we want to know is whether a smartphone would still work after being left floating in space or whether that harsh, alien environment would prove too much for a device which in many cases can't survive a little water or a fall off a table.

Nexus One

Satellite phone

You may be surprised to learn that it's already been put to the test, sort of. Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) launched a Nexus One into space last year as part of a nano-satellite called STRaND-1.

The nano-satellite doesn't just consist of a Nexus One, but the phone has been mounted to one of the satellites panels and sent into space in its entirety. While in space a number of apps have been run from the phone, both to collect data and for fun, and the handset's camera has been used to take pictures.

NASA has a similar ongoing project called PhoneSat, which first involved launching a satellite which used a Nexus One as its onboard computer and then later launching a second satellite which used a Nexus S.


You might think that answers the question but it's a bit more complicated than that as the satellites contained precautions to protect the phones. For example the onboard computer on STRaND-1 would monitor the temperature of the battery and if it started getting too cold it would trigger a processor intensive program to warm it up.

Not to mention the fact that the phones were largely enclosed by the satellites they were a part of, giving them a certain amount of protection. It's a good start but it still doesn't tell us whether a smartphone could survive unassisted.

Hot and cold

Space can get as cold as -270.4 degrees Celsius, while simply being in direct sunlight in high Earth orbit can lead to temperatures of around 120 degrees Celsius. Those are some extreme temperatures and a smartphone could potentially experience both extremes while in space.

Phones just aren't built to withstand that, which is understandable, since short of diving into a volcano followed by a trek across the Arctic to cool off those aren't temperatures that you're likely to encounter on Earth.

iPhone 5S

Though even within comparatively normal temperatures many smartphones don't fare brilliantly. The iPhone 5S for example can, according to Apple, withstand temperatures of between 0 and 35 degrees Celsius when turned on and between -20 and 45 degrees Celsius when off, which is nowhere near the extremes you'd potentially encounter in space.

Some phones are more resilient, but in a temperature resilience test of 15 of the most popular smartphones carried out by TechHive in 2012, all of them had shut down by -35 degrees Celsius.

Cat B15

Even a phone designed specifically to be durable and withstand the elements, like the Cat B15, can only be operated at between -20 and 55 degrees Celsius.

Smartphone screens may also malfunction in extreme temperatures, while if it's cold enough there's even a chance the screen could shatter. Gorilla Glass has made our screens stronger but they're still not immune to the elements.


The bigger problem though is a phone's battery. If it gets too hot it will degrade faster and at extreme temperatures like those found in space the electrolyte in the battery could even ignite, while cold temperatures can cause the battery to drain rapidly.

Source : techradar[dot]com

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