NASA Sends IoT to Space

September 29, 2020

IoT isn’t earthbound. NASA has taken communication technologies into Earth’s atmosphere and beyond.

Tiny Swarming Satellites

June 3, 2019 marked the successful deployment of satellite sprites called ChipSats into Earth’s orbit. The sprites measure 3.5 by 3.5 centimeters (just larger than a postage stamp) and contain sensors, communication equipment and computing components. The initial deployment tested the sprites’ ability to communicate with one another and transmit data back to Earth. In the future, these tiny satellites could gather information on the planet’s weather, environment and wildlife. Beyond Earth, they could potentially map the surface of asteroids or moons around other planets.

The goal of the project was to build a swarm of tiny satellites that could carry out the tasks of traditional satellites at a lower expense. It was important to prove the sprites wouldn’t interfere with the communications of other satellites. The affordability of the tiny satellites suggests that space (or at least Earth’s orbit) may one day become the communication road of the consumer, not just technology giants like NASA.

Made for Space Comes Back to Earth

NASA created a humanoid robot, Robonaut, to perform space walks in risky locations and keep human astronauts safe. That creation has resulted in several applications for Earth, one of which is the RoboGlove. The glove uses sensors and actuators to detect objects and strengthen a user’s grip. The glove could help manufacturing workers perform tasks without muscle strain or fatigue.

Also from Robonaut comes the X1 exoskeleton with motorized joints that assist or restrict movement. NASA sees the device as an exercise tool for astronauts while in space or for walking assistance in a reduced gravity environment. The exoskeleton also has the potential to aid paraplegics or rehab patients.

Building off developments from the X1 is the Armstrong, a wearable that enhances shoulder movement. The device works through actuators at the torso that pull on synthetic tendons across the shoulder and elbow joints. The device could assist astronauts in manual lifting or serve as a medical tool in rehabilitation facilities.

In 1998, NASA utilized ingestible sensors to measure astronaut body temperature. The pill has since been used by professional athletes, soldiers and firefighters to monitor for heat exhaustion. Further implementation of the technology led to FDA approval of the first pill with an ingestible sensor in 2017.

Sealevel in Space

Sealevel created a custom 9009 interface for controlling the robotic arm of NASA’s space shuttle. The PC card connects to the robotic arm through an external cable, which enables astronauts on the space shuttle to view the arm’s position without needing to suit up to go outside. The interface has been operational since 2000.