Chinese scientists have devised an innovative way to utilize a spent rocket in space as a smart application platform. They are now working on a plan to fit intelligent chip systems in the final stage of their space-bound rockets to turn them into an orbital Internet of Things (IoT). In this way, these rockets can be used as a communication and experiment platform rather than being discarded as space junk after sending a satellite into orbit.
A report published in Xinhua News talks about a program being conducted at Fudan University in Shanghai. Chinese scientists working under this program installed smart chips on the final stage of a Long March 4C rocket that was used to send the Fengyun-3D satellite into space last month. Zheng Lirong, the lead scientist of the project, told Xinhua News that fitting smart chips on that rocket enabled scientists to establish the preliminary stage of an in-orbit IoT. This smart chip system has been named “Xinyun” in Chinese, which literally means the cloud of chips.
“With these intelligent chips attached, space debris can be transformed into a low-cost science experiment and communication platform,” Lirong said.
According to NASA, more than 500,000 pieces of space junk are currently orbiting the Earth at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour (28,300 kilometers per hour). Scientists recognize orbital junk as a serious threat to space missions as even a small piece of space debris can damage spacecraft, satellites, and even the International Space Station (ISS). The majority of this orbital junk includes rocket sections that were discarded during space launches. NASA already has an established set of procedures and guidelines on how to avert a potential collision with orbital junk in space.
According to Xinhua News, Chinese scientists have been working on this project for the past two years and during these two years, they successfully developed the functional modules to create “nanosatellites” able to work in space.
IoT is a concept discussed by technology companies for decades. It is all about connecting different devices over the internet and enabling them to communicate with humans, with other applications, and with each other as well. The concept not only talks about connected devices and smart homes but also offers a vision of smart cities and industries. IoT solutions are already being employed in our daily lives, ranging from smart, wearable gadgets and GPS-tracked grazing to connected, driverless cars.
According to Xinhua News, the new Chinese technology is still in testing phase, and scientists are currently studying the path of orbiting debris. The IoT system has been in space for more than 430 hours, and the communication between the space nodes and the ground networks is currently stable. The system is receiving commands from the ground staff and is sending them the data from space. Further tests will let scientists verify the energy self-sufficiency, fault tolerance, and other functions of the intelligent chip system in space.