“That’s one small step for XBee, one giant leap for wireless.”
As you may know, NASA successfully launched the Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket carrying two space technology demonstration projects back on July 7th. The spacecraft conveyed the Radial Core Heat Spreader from NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, along with the SOAREX-8 Exo-Brake Flight Test from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.
What you may not know is that, aboard the rocket, was an Arduino and a few XBees. Researchers had been exploring the use of Exo-Brake technology, an exo-atmospheric passive braking device that could eventually enable small samples to be returned fairly rapidly from an orbital platform, like the International Space Station. Accomplishing this requires exploiting the exosphere by deploying a drogue parachute with an area of about 10-square-feet per 2.2-pounds of satellite.
“We were able to send commands and receive data to and from the satellite via the onboard modem using only a laptop and email account. This capability may greatly benefit the entire nanosatellite community.” Marcus Murbach of NASA’s Ames Research Center recently explained.
As part of the program to determine potential applications of wireless technologies in space, NASA selected the combination of XBee ZigBee modules, an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and an Iridium module to create a network to reliably gather critical data. The XBee was employed to collect the sensor data including temperature, air pressure and three-axis acceleration parameters, while the Arduino was tasked with managing communications between the local XBee wireless network and the long-range Iridium satellite uplink.
“Wireless sensor technology allows measuring important parameters such as aerodynamic pressure and temperature at the apex of the Exo-Brake during re-entry. It is very difficult to instrument a deployable parachute like the Exo-Brake, and wireless sensor modules provide the means for this type of measurement where it is difficult to run wires,” added NASA computer engineer Rick Alena.
Seeing as this was the XBee network’s first trip to space, its team had to capture the moment on video. The folks at Digi have been kind enough to share it, so you can watch it below! Those wishing to learn more about the Exo-Brake can do so here.